This is the text of the homily I gave for my church service this past weekend. We, like so many communities, met online rather than in person. Mass via Zoom! My reflection is based on the readings for Sunday, March 22: 1 Samuel 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13 ; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41
I keep hearing it said that these are “dark days.”
One New York Times headline declared that we’ve entered “a black hole.”
We are told to socially distance… then isolate.
Yikes. For many, fear is rising strongly. It can all seem so scary—apocalyptic even!
It is undeniable—things are changing. Fast. We are entering times that some are calling “unraveling.” Life as we knew it just a week ago is… different.
What do we do in such rapid change? How do we keep our center, our calm? How do we remain available and present for what is needed?
The readings seem today to speak to so many of our current questions, if we read them through the lens of what is happening NOW, the questions we have NOW, what we are living NOW. The holy spirit is amazing like that.
The readings are all about darkness and light. We like to lean towards the light in them—the blind man sees, David is anointed, Paul says—wake up! Yet I propose that what’s really here for us today is learning how to see in the dark.
How do we navigate when the contours of everything we thought we knew are changing?
The gospel seems to say—find a new way of seeing. Go to a different place of wisdom. Let go of the old way and step into the new.
The man at the center of today’s gospel is readily and easily able to do this—to step into a whole new world. The Pharisees, on the other hand, are having a hard time. They can’t make sense of it—they resist it even, focusing on their understanding of this man as a sinner and Jesus’ failures as a religious teacher. They’re really quite in a tizzy, spinning in their analytical brains and trapped by the rules of what’s supposed to be. This incredible healing happens, and for them there is no pause, no praise, only judgement. They just cannot step into the new thing, this mystery we call miracle. They haven’t cultivated the eyes to see in the dark.
The man, on the other hand, knows who he is and remains centered in his experience, no matter how unbelievable it seems. How is he able to do this?
Imagine for a moment his reality—not so much the moment of sight, but a life lived in darkness. You can close your eyes if it helps you imagine. What was his world like, his life? What was it like to not only be unable to see, but to be called a sinner and discarded from society?… What might this man have cultivated within him? What other senses might be especially acute and perceptive? How else might he have learned to “see”?
This man, in his innocence and life of darkness, simply believes. He doesn’t even know who Jesus is, but he follows him with his whole heart. He calls Jesus a prophet, but I wonder if it’s HIM, this man who has lived for so long in darkness, discarded by the culture of the day, named a sinner, who is really the prophet for us.
A long time before this moment, I would imagine, while sitting in darkness, palms up and totally dependent on the generosity of others, this man learned to live from his heart. Nothing in his life made sense. He was born this way but told he or his parents must have sinned. In a culture punishing his vulnerability and lack of sight, he had little option but to sit, near the earth, hands open.
There are many in our human community who have long been learning to see in the dark. Those who have been told and treated for centuries like they are less than human because of the color of their skin. Those whose love has been labeled sinful or disordered. Those living so close to the earth every day because her resources are far more reliable for the children than those promised by a system that has forgotten them. Those, right now, too familiar with the worry of how they’re going to pay the rent.
Catholic Social Teaching has a principle called the “preferential option for the poor” and while yes it is about caring for the most vulnerable, it is also about those of us in places of privilege that need to learn to see as they see. These ones, the ones who have suffered much, are the ones who know how to see in the dark—who have had little choice but to have faith and trust and lean on community and God. They have walked the path of death and sorrow and kept living. They know intimately the way of the cross that leads to Easter resurrection. Theirs is a way of the Heart, an inner knowing that sustains when nothing makes sense.
I want to be very clear, as Jesus was clear at the beginning of our gospel—God does not make them suffer or wish their suffering, and suffering is most certainly NOT a mark of “sinfulness” as in they have done something wrong. If anything, it is about the sins of a culture and system that has wronged them. God in Her Great Love is always, always, creating life out of death. The new is rising out of the old. And somehow, it seems, the ones at the frontiers of suffering are also the ones at the frontiers of resurrection.
One of my yoga teachers always said, “the place of your deepest pain is the place of your greatest gift.” I say now—the place of your deepest dark is the place of your greatest sight.
It is not time to despair or to fear or to analyze every angle of an impossible situation. It is time to trust and believe, to love all that is here, to unify and to move with faith in the dark. To let the ones who really see lead the way. To return to the parts of ourselves that, in some great sorrow or loss, have already learned how to navigate in darkness.
How have you learned to see in the dark? What life moments have brought you low, have broken you open, have left you with little option but to sit, hands empty, totally dependent on others and God? When have you had no idea what was going to happen or how to approach it, and all you could do was wait and be? What was grace like, then? What did you see and know, then?
Some of us know just what these moments are—a death of a beloved that obliterated us. A life transition or an impossible decision. A physical illness or injury. A break-up. Maybe we’re in one of those moments now, watching the spread of a new disease move throughout the world. We don’t know what to do. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to be this way.
When our analytical minds fail us, when we can’t figure it out and have no answers, we must, like the hero of our gospel, move into a different space within ourselves.
We must grow and trust our inner senses, our contemplative hearts.
There is a Buddhist practice, that I’m learning in a shamanic course I’m taking, called “the 3 hearts.” It is so beautiful and I wonder if we can practice it together now.
In this miracle of being human, we actually have three hearts—our intellectual knowing (brain), our intuitive knowing (heart) and our instinctive knowing (belly/gut). We need all three!
I invite you to close your eyes for a moment … to take a couple deep breaths…and bring your awareness to your brain… your beautiful brain, with all your firing synapses, thoughts and ideas. Feel your energy here, in the center of your brain… feel the connections to your eyes… your spinal cord…let your intellectual heart breathe…
now bring your awareness down into your physical heart space… imagine your energy there… breathe as you feel your lungs hugging your heart… feel that ball of energy pulsing and expanding as you give and receive love, just by sitting here… feeling your feelings, your emotions… your intuitive heart…
now bring your awareness to the energy at the center of your belly… your instinctive heart… breathe and feel here… imagine the breath expanding and pulsing in your belly…your connection to earth… to animal knowing… now travel between your three hearts for a few moments, checking and feeling the connection… the life… the breath…
We need our intellect to make decisions, see clearly and communicate. Our intuition helps us feel emotional wisdom… to give and receive love and make space for the unknown. Our instinct helps connect us to the earth and all Her resources, to our primal, gut knowing … WE ARE MADE TO CONSTANTLY BE WEAVING ALL THREE HEARTS within us, especially in times like this, that our ego-minds alone can’t make sense of.
We have the capacity to move and live and have our being in times of great unknown—as the One who gives all life Lives and Moves and has Her being IN US.
There is a reason Jesus says, “do not be afraid” more than anything else in scripture. There is a reason, over and over, he lifted up the little ones, the broken ones, the forgotten ones, those accustomed to seeing in the dark. There is a reason he stayed close to the earth. There is a reason the day of his death is called “good” Friday.
It seems to me this is what Lent is for—to prepare us, by a journey through darkness, for the glory, mystery and miracle of Easter, the union of death and life. How else could our souls engage something so huge? It doesn’t make sense. We can’t approach it with only our analyzing mind—we need all three of our hearts, our intellect, intuition AND instinct, the fullness of our humanity, to receive such a great gift and to enter it fully.
The man in our gospel has a great capacity to hold mystery and miracle. He had been cultivating it for many years in the darkness. He names Jesus a prophet but really, HE is the prophet, living a life of inner awareness and great light.
I know these times are hard, and seem impossible, but I promise you brothers and sisters—we are well resourced for this. Some might say we are made for it. Let’s not get in our heads and panic. Let’s not forget the ones the system still tells us it’s easy to forget. Let’s unite in love and open ourselves to what God is creating always, in Her great love. Let us know the light in our innermost beings and share it in any way we can. Let us see as She sees.