On Seeing Clearly

I had cataract surgery this week on my right eye, improving my vision from 20/80 with glasses to 20/20 with none. The effect was nearly immediate. Within twenty-four hours I could see the world again, and see it so very clearly. 

I often wryly comment that I like to schedule my dental work during Lent – it reminds me of my human frailty. This Lent my teeth didn’t need attention, but the lens in my eye sure needed replacing. 

It was a remarkable procedure, taking about ten to twenty minutes, in which the cloudy natural lens in my eye was removed and a new clear prescription lens was implanted. I reported in at 7:45 and left the building at 10:00 a.m. The nurse gave me an I-V to relax me. They wheeled me into the surgery room. Soon, I saw the doctor’s upside down face peering at me. “Okay?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Then let’s do this,” he replied. He aimed the overhead light on my eye. There was no pain. Soon, to my surprise, I was seeing bright colors – hot pinks, brilliant blues – that formed vertical bars dancing in my vision. Then it was over. A woven metal patch, like a fine grill, was taped over my eye, through which I could see out partially, and I was wheeled into recovery. 

To be able to see clearly when all of your life you have struggled with your vision seems like a miracle. The last few days I have found myself watching the world around me as though reborn, noticing the edges of things, leaves and clouds and blades of grass. I said to a friend that I felt like Bartimaeus, the “man born blind” in the Gospels, healed by Christ.

So the experience hasn’t been very penitential and I’m grateful. But blindness and seeing again, a recurring image and event in Scripture (or the reverse with Samson), has taken on new meaning. I understand those who say they were “reborn” when they become Christians. To suddenly see the world in a new and different way is like being healed of blindness, being given new eyes to see.

And I’ve often considered Lent a dark time, a time of patience and discipline, a time of self-denial and greater love. We wait for spring, for the lighter and longer days, for the darkness of the nights of winter to lessen. Somehow, as we work our way into deep Lent, drawing closer to the Way of the Cross, we find that the small acts of self-discipline and denial we suffer allow us to see better. It is as though we don’t get in the way of God’s healing power. He touches our eyes and restores our sight.

A friend often says his daily prayer is that he doesn’t get in the way of God’s will. He stands aside, waits, watches, faithfully lives a live of worship, sacrament, Scripture, service. He searches his heart, confesses, and is washed clean. He makes room for God to work in his life.

Lent teaches us how to do this, how to become smaller, and in becoming smaller, allowing God to fill us, fulfill us, work his will in us. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.”

The Gospel today isn’t about Bartimaeus, but nevertheless wakes us up with its urgent claims. It reminds us forcefully who Jesus Christ was and is, that he stated unequivocally that he was God. He tells his questioners that he is “I AM,” which, as they well knew, was the holy, unspeakable name for God, an extremely dangerous and blasphemous claim to make in that time and place. So today, Passion Sunday, we see the crux, the cross of our faith, that God became one of us to suffer as one of us, to suffer for us because of his love for us.

It is said that “The Passion” is the union of love and suffering. Passion comes from the Latin root passio, meaning to suffer, and became passion in Old French. It has come to mean deep physical and emotional experience, such as the passion of falling in love. It was used for many centuries to refer to crucial, dramatic events in a person’s life. And so we call the last two weeks of Christ’s life on earth his “Passion,” when God’s love, his unobstructed will, was acted out among his own creation so that they could conquer death and live with him forever.

We now enter Great Lent when the world re-enacts, relives those miraculous, passion-ate days. On Palm Sunday we will wave palms in procession, greeting Our Lord’s entry through the great gates of the holy city of Jerusalem. We shall follow his Way of the Cross through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. We shall, with Mary Magdalene, rush to the open tomb on Easter morning to anoint his body, but will find the tomb empty.

As we walk these days of the Passion, we listen, watch, and wait. For we know that suddenly our own veils will be parted and we will see, no more through a cloudy lens, no more through a glass darkly, but see clearly all that we are meant to see and all that we are meant to be.

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