Joy and Hope
November 7, 2009
Hold on to the clarity of faith
Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist by training, is also a renowned storyteller who writes about the curious workings of the human brain. He wrote a bestseller entitled, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat” (1985).
I recall an article he published in a magazine recounting the story of the blind man who regained his sight late in life through surgery but still continued to act as if he were blind. Though his eyesight had been restored he was never able to trust what he could see. He continued to wander around his house relying on his sense of touch and the familiar patterns of movement he had during the many years of his blindness.
In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Mark we read about the amazing story of the blind man, Bartimaeus. Even though he was blind he saw what the disciples and leaders of the people could not or would not see (Mk. 10. 46-52). He recognized the Lord Jesus as the Messiah. He knew that Jesus could heal this blindness so he called to the Lord, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”
When Jesus healed his blindness, Bartimaeus could see Jesus more clearly and follow him more nearly. At the moment Jesus healed the blind man, he said to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” It was faith that restored his sight. This is what faith does; it restores our sight so that we can see Jesus and follow him.
Saint John in one of his letters tells us: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us.” (1 Jn. 1:3) We are in a society that does not see what we see and then accuses us of blindness. We still hold the conviction that our faith not only allows us to hear and see the Lord Jesus. We also come to see the world as he does.
This faith in the Lord Jesus allows us to see the dignity of human life from the first moments of conception. We marvel at the nobility of the human person in the moments of human frailty, illness, and even in the final anguished moments of death. We recognize the unique beauty of the union of man and woman in marriage. We discover the face of the Lord Jesus in our brothers and sisters, especially the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner, and the despised.
Many do not see what we see. They will say that our vision is distorted. They will even say that our faith has made us blind to the facts. This makes holding on to the clarity of faith a challenge for many of us. Like the blind man in Oliver Sack’s tale, we may lose trust in the vision of faith that Jesus has given us. Some of us might choose to keep to ourselves what we see and hear. Some may even prefer the commonly-held perceptions and to conform both their thoughts and their actions to those of the rest of society. It is much more comfortable that way, the path of least resistance. Following the example from Sack’s poignant tale, we would rather not trust what our faith sees and hears.
As I have reflected time and again on Oliver Sack’s modern parable, I have come to understand that our eyesight alone does not allow us to see. From the first moments we are born we learn to trust what our eyes tell us. We learn bit by bit how to judge what we perceive. Through practice we begin to coordinate our sight with the movement of our head, hands and feet. As adults, we gaze with wonder and mirth watching this maturing process in young infants. In time the awkward bumbling and waddling of the toddler becomes the exuberant, unstoppable movements of the young child.
Our faith operates in much the same way. From the first moments of religious belief, we learn to trust what our faith in Jesus tells us. We learn bit by bit how to judge what we perceive by faith. Through practice and ritual we begin to coordinate our sight with the movement of our head, hands and feet. What often begins for us as awkward bumbling and waddling, with practice and ritual, becomes the same exuberant, unstoppable movement we see in Bartimaeus. Like him we leap up and follow the Lord Jesus on the way.