March 29, 2005

Sight to the Blind

In this passage, a man (does he have a name or is he generic?) blind from birth, was given vision through a healing by Jesus. He moved from being born blind, from one who was never able to see, one who was in the dark, so to speak, to one who could see. This particular metaphorical mythology is in every religion – to first be blind and then to be able to see connotes an awakening.

In this scriptural story I wondered about why the clay, spittle, and waters from the pool of Siloam were needed to accomplish this curative transformation. It seemed to me that these were distracters, that these details made it appear that it was this magic that restored the man’s vision rather than the invisible healing force of God. Then I thought about how these physical intermediaries serve to stimulate and become a focus for faith. Actually there have always been a lot of intermediaries in religious culture, for example symbols and rituals, and their function seems to be to rouse one’s receptivity to the presence of God. For example, after the clay and spittle treatment, Jesus sent the man to bathe in the waters of Siloam, which were considered holy waters. This was obviously an essential part of the healing transformation. The water was not only used to wash, but also for drinking, for use on altars, and for feasting and celebrating. This command encouraged the awakening man to immerse himself in holy purification, to be washed by holy waters in quenching spiritual thirst, to rejoice, and to worship to promote his faith.

One thing that drew me to Quakerism was the simplicity of the structure of faith and practice. We have few outward symbols or rituals, other than our Meetings for Worship and Business. And in our Meeting, we also have Meeting for Eating (smile). To encourage our spiritual growth, I guess we just depend on ourselves, our silence in which we wait upon the Spirit, our reading, and our spiritual dialogues and Friendships. Sometimes I wonder if it is enough – is this simple practice enough to sufficiently freshen, deepen and sustain our spiritual lives? This is a question only an individual can answer for themselves.

This transformation from blind to seeing creates quite a predictable commotion amongst the people – the Pharisees were disbelieving, the neighbors were surprised and skeptical, and the parents kept quiet out of fear of excommunication. The awakened man, however, continued to grow in his faith. He was questioned a lot about this experience and treated with disrespect. But still the man remained steadfast in his faith.

In my experience of spiritual sharing I have also received some very negative reactions from others. Fortunately, I have never been cursed and evicted from the Meeting house, or in any way outwardly persecuted. My experience has been much tamer. Sometimes friends are surprised and skeptical. I sense fear in others – maybe it is a fear that Meredith is changing, or as one dear one noted, that I seem to be “in La La land.” Many just don’t want to talk about spiritual matters. Some friends roll their eyes at me when I mention of anything remotely spiritual. I am grateful that I have the freedom I do to express myself. I find the negative reactions sad, but I recognize that I am responsible for how I present myself, and I try to be aware of perceptions, timing, and situation. However, like the blind man, reactions from others have not distracted me from my path.


At 4:32 a.m., Blogger david said...

It seems important to me this be a physical healing. Not because I have a special investment in miracles but because of the thrust of the story.

The physical blindness of the man contrasted with his spiritual sight and with spiritual blindness of the Jews. He doesn't let theological assumptions keep him from accepting the truth. The Pharasees do.

It seems to me that is a central point of this passage and we lose it if we don't start with this being a physical healing.

At 4:35 a.m., Blogger david said...

me again.

I do like your comments on the symbolism of the elements Jesus used in the healing. i think Jesus does this in other places -- like using physical touch to heal leper or speaking words to a deaf person to heal their deafness.

At 12:59 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Hi Meredith.

I'd like to know more about Quaker meetings ... what do you guys do in a worship meeting? And what is a business meeting all about?

You probably already know what Catholic church services are like - pretty ritualized ... memorized responses, readings from the OT and NT, the priest's homily on the readings, communion, music and prayers here and there.

At 10:34 p.m., Blogger Meredith said...

Dear Crystal,

During our Meeting we come together for a time of worship, fellowship and renewal. When we are ready, the Meeting will become silent, and we will begin to prayerfully center ourselves. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). In this manner, our minds tune out distractions, and we begin to wait upon the spirit. Each of us uses the silence in his or her own way to seek inspiration and inner peace. With divine guidance, our worship and our lives are directed by God’s will.

We believe in an experiential relationship with God. We as Friends have no creed, no sacraments, and no presiding ministers. That is, we hold that God is directly accessible to all persons without the need of an
intermediary priest or ritual. In all persons there is believed to be an in-dwelling Light, also referred to as a Seed, or Living Christ, that is God, and that will guide us to live in accordance with God.

We rely on this direct experience of the spirit in our leadings. We believe that true spirituality comes from this experience with the sacred, and not from a set of prayers, words, or rituals.

As Friends, we have faith in goodness and Light, which we believe reveals a true and infinitely loving God. All of life is sacramental to us. Thus, we do not employ outward sacraments but rather rely on our inward relationship with God.

During the Meeting, individuals may speak when they feel led by the spirit to share an inspired message. Anyone may offer a message during the Meeting for Worship. We listen attentively to vocal messages without verbally responding, observing spaces of silence between messages to allow the message to season in our hearts.

Meetings for busisness are just that, except we also hold a period of Silence to begin and end the Meeting. This Meeting is presided over by the Clerk, and is conducted in a manner that is somewhat like consensus, but relies on "the sense of the Meeting" which is actually a little different. We don't vote, and majority doesn't always rule. "The sense of the Meeting" takes into account what elder "weighty" Friends opinions might be, as well as fresh insights by anyone in the Meeting. Sometimes the "Sense" is arrived at by statements by Friends that seem to capture the highest intention.

Naturally, there is much more that could be said about Meetings for Worship and Busisness, but perhaps this is a beginning.

Thank you for asking!

At 12:55 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Thank, Merdith :-). If I hadn't joined this group I would never have suspected such a way of doing christianity existed ... it seems very courageous in its trust in the goodness of both human nature and God.

At 7:27 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

Meredith, you wrote, "Sometimes I wonder if it is enough – is this simple practice enough to sufficiently freshen, deepen and sustain our spiritual lives?"

I suppose many of us have these thoughts. I practised the conventional forms of worship for years and found meaning and nurture in them. It was the corruptions of Christianity (Jefferson's phrase) that took me away. Quakerism seems to have the least of those.

Now, after 20 years as a (generic) Quaker, I do wonder. Driving across the country this morning, listening to the radio: we often come across religious stations, and they often have very well performed music. I noticed that it doesn't move me like it used to.

Is that a loss? or a growth? It seems that Quakers depend much less on emotion, and if we are spiritually sensitive, I suppose we have to wonder if we lost something.

I used to say most Quakers are refugees from institutional religion. Then I came to feel we are graduates. Quien sabe?

At 9:27 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

Hi Larry. Music is the thing I miss the most about going to church (I haven't gone for years). There is something special about hearing so many voices raised at once. This Taize music tidbit is wonderful - it's another way of praying.

At 10:23 p.m., Blogger Meredith said...

Our friend Isaiah recently posted this quote from one of my favorite poets, Hafiz:

"Just sit there right now. Don't do a thing. Just rest. For your separation from God is the hardest work in the world." -Hafiz, Love Poems From God

At first, I didn't understand this. Then it was explained to me that all the things we do, all the distractions, the entertainment, the shopping, the activities we engage in actually are a wedge between us and our communion with God. In actuality, it is hard work to keep so busy that God doesn't have a turn!

At first, to just sit and Be without any distractions is hard. But in time, to distract is more difficult, and just sitting, just Being in the Presence of God is the most satisfying thing in life.

For me, our Meeting is a time for this resting in the Spirit. I also enjoy my spiritual friendships, dialogue, and spiritual reading and reflection. For others in my Meeting, however, it seems this structure is barely enough. Many sleep through the silent Meeting, while others fidget and watch their clocks. Some Friends ask "What is God," and cannot identify what this even means for them. Some Friends say their spirituality is in nature, but cannot articulate this as a relationship with God (or any one of the other hundred names for this presence). I guess I just continue to puzzle about how to share and nurture these Friends in the spiritual life I have found to be so fulfilling. Fortunately, our small worship group weekly engages in discussion time, and this offers us a time to pose queries and share reflections on spiritual matters, and I believe, nourishes each of us spiritually.

I don't consider us so much graduates, as perhaps finding for a wide variety of reasons that the simplicity of the Quaker structure is most fitting for the spritual work that an individual is engaged in at a particular time in his/her life and within a context that provides them the most freedom for this expression.

At 6:56 p.m., Blogger Marjorie said...

I loved this post and the comments -- Meredith, I so enjoy it when you share a bit about yourself. I enjoy Graceful Presence and your posts there, but there is something in me that seems to need a connection with another, more than just spiritual ponderings. Thank you.

A refugee is a good term -- I'm told people are asking about me at church, I feel a bit hunted. I'm so ambivalent about going there, maybe anywhere. But its hard to go to Meeting with a young child and its hard to leave my family behind to go. I know Way will Open, but I'm feeling a bit out in the wilderness at the moment.


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