Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Jn. 9:39
Beliefs can become very blinding to a sense of freedom, healing, and happiness. Beliefs can be more about controlling lives rather than giving freedom to experience choice and happiness. Beliefs have caused millions of people to live and die in fear and deep guilt. My observation is that the more a religious group takes its beliefs literally as expressions of God’s Word, the more exclusive they become. They judge others as inferior, as being outside God’s love, unworthy of forgiveness and acceptance. They judge others on their forms of worship, music used, clothing worn, food eaten, color of skin and ethnic background.
In the last century, the most highly industrialized nation with the Christian Church as its “state religion,” elected leadership which talked the nation into destroying 6 million Jewish people along with 5 million more who were gypsies, “mixed blood,” and homosexuals. It is shocking to me when I still hear people today saying it was God’s punishment upon these people!
Today’s story from John chapter 9 is an illustration from long ago relating to bad beliefs which buttress blindness! Jesus sees a man along the road who had been blind from birth. People were discussing reasons for his blindness; was it his own personal sins or those of his parents. It was common then, as it is now, for people to assume that sickness and suffering are caused by God’s punishment for their or somebody else’s sins. The question was asked, “Why is this man being punished? Was it for his own sins or those of his parents?” Jesus simply answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
The story is an allegory of our lives on earth. Our bodies naturally place us into a life of misery and guilt. We are all along the road of life blind to the freedom and peace we could experience. We all are blinded in guilt, fear of God, and judgment on others which are really projections on ourselves. A teacher said once to me that bodies are “crystallized guilt!” To identify being in a body as our self is accept ourselves imprisoned in misery, worry, fear, and guilt. No matter how well or healthy we may seem to be, as Longfellow penned, “our hearts like muffled drums beat funeral dirges toward death.” (The Psalm of Life, 1938) To be born in bodies is to be born in blindness. It is nobody’s fault; it is just the way it is. I think of it as a dream journey into a place of separation which became quickly one of pain and misery. Did you ever hear of a baby being born laughing and expressing great joy upon arrival?
In bodies, we are then quick to plead victimhood for our situations rather than accepting our own decision to come here. We plead, “My parents were dysfunctional, we were too poor, I was fed the wrong food, I lived in the wrong location, went to the wrong schools, married the wrong person(s), had bad attitude kids, and on and on it goes. I think we chose this path, we chose this journey into a body and until we awaken to our Eternal Spirit nature, we will live and die, probably born again and again back in darkness, in blindness.
Organized religions will certainly oblige us in our ideas of blaming others. Or yourself. They quickly point out we are sinners, even conceived in it! And beyond emphasizing over and over our offenses making God angry, sad, and very upset, we are told how wicked and awful the world is around us, how evil and satanic forces have taken over the world. Religions will make all sorts of rules for us to keep, and be quick to judge and damn us unless confession and repentance are shown along with a generous donation to “God’s work.”
In this story, besides the man’s parents, the religious folks called “Pharisees” were the first ones to be introduced to the man who had received his sight. Were they overjoyed, excited, wanting to know how it happened? No, they remembered quickly the healing was done on a Sabbath day, thus violating God’s law. Thus the healing was fake, outside the boundaries of religious rules and invalid. The one who did this healing under their laws could be stoned to death.
The religious leaders even called in the blind man’s parents for explanations. Were they withholding information about this outsider, about their son? Was this son another from the one born blind from birth? The parents again referred them to their son; he was of age, he knew what he had experienced. “Ask him.”
Isn’t there an element of humor here? A blind man is given his sight but religious folks are saying it couldn’t be of God because the healer did it on the Sabbath, our “Sunday.” It seems quite laughable when you think about it. Even ridiculous.
I once won a trophy for placing second in a teen age driving “Roadeo” when I was a Junior in High School. I tried to hide it from my mother because the Roadeo took place on Sunday, which was our “Sabbath Day”. We had had quite an argument over my participation and I finally gave in under fear of damnation to hell. On Sunday, when the Roadeo was being conducted, I went to the morning church services in the Baptist Church, ate our big Sunday dinner and laid down to take the customary naps in our house. The phone rang and I got to it while my mom was still asleep. It was my Driver Education teacher urging me to come to Jamestown as quickly as possible to participate. He said he felt I could win and with it a trip to state level competition. I quietly sneaked out, driving quietly out the driveway to the parking lot in Jamestown where all the barrels and markers were still set up for the course. I took the written road test and was the last one to compete. By parking the rear wheels eight inches from the curb rather than six or under, I placed 2nd rather than 1st. I drove home and kept quiet. The next day the Jamestown Post Journal published an account of the event with my picture and the other two contestants winning 1st and 3rd place! I thought mom would whoop me good but she said nothing, which was nearly as painful as the whooping! When the trophy arrived, she displayed it for years until awhile ago she gave it back to me to put in our home. And I never dropped dead or suffered any long term effects from breaking her “Sabbath Day” rules!
Some of you may know Rev. Frank Wright who has been retired for a few years from North Church in North Tonawanda. He began his ministerial career at the Wayside Church which I pastored for thirty-three years. Frank only stayed ten years before moving “north.” After I came as a young man, I was visiting one day with an older woman member who had come from Scotland, Mrs. McKee. Rev. Wright’s name came up and she asked how he was. I said “Fine” often seeing him at Presbytery meetings. Then she said, “I always liked young Frank so much but one day he offered to drive me home after church services. I never did drive. Well, on the way, he stopped at the drug store and bought a Sunday newspaper. I never could respect him afterwards for the way he broke the Sabbath Day’s holiness!”
“Seeing” from the awakening to one’s Christ Self is quite opposite from the ways of most organized religions. Religious bodies work to articulate their beliefs about who God is, what God is like, and how God wants us to govern ourselves. It tells us who is “saved” and who is “lost in sins,” who keeps the rules and who breaks them. Truth, however, when one awakens to the Christ within, is indescribable, beyond words, beyond descriptions. No one can define and portray God except in artistic expression or by the miracle of forgiveness and display of kindness toward others.
It usually is uncomfortable to most religious people to have such mystical, esoteric, beyond description experiences. We want everything done “decently and in order.” We want to “see things” clearly. We feel comfortable making our judgments on those who are “in” and those who are “out,” on persons who follow the faith rules we were taught and those who don’t. To have a religious experience in most of our churches today is to listen to a reasonable sermon following a reasonable liturgy with reasonable music in a clear, comfortable reasonable order. To stop and be quiet, to seek that which is beyond reason, to listen for the Voice inside is a bit too scary, uncontrollable and unreasonable.
Driving home from Sherman a couple weeks ago I heard of an interview with a lady in her mid thirties or so. She had always been quite overweight and large as a young lady. Her parents even laughed at her size and made unkind comments about her. She had few friends and thought of herself as ugly, undesirable and lonely. By age thirty she was very much overweight and her doctor recommended she lose weight soon or face serious health issues. So she went on a special, strict diet for several months, losing over 100 pounds and needing to purchase a whole new wardrobe. She felt so free and as if her whole life would be changed now for the better. Her life was changed, but for the worse! Even though she looked different, she still had the same negative concepts about herself; ugly, embarrassed to be in public, extremely uncomfortable when people mentioned how attractive she was, even when telling her she looked “sexy!” She returned to her doctor wanting advice. The doctor wisely suggested she work with a psychotherapist which she did but it took a longer period than it took to lose weight in order to develop a more healthy, loving way to see both herself and the world around her.
We can look religious, attend church worship services and meetings, support the church, but never see ourselves or others much differently. We can feel guilty, unworthy, not good enough and adversely affected by parents and the environment. We still can primarily call ourselves and others “sinners” and “pagans” even though our outward selves appear different. After all, we do go to church now and participate in the programs. The story of the Blind Man along the road is a powerful allegory for us today, especially people in religious bodies. To change our minds from the darkness of anger, unforgiveness, joylessness, and condemnation is more than getting a religious label and membership. It is a letting go, a realization of a deeper identity. It is an awakening to see ourselves as One with God, One with the Power to love, to forgive ourselves and others who have hurt our body and psyche.
Again, people in bodies the world over hunger for this acceptance and release. As followers of the stories of Jesus who gave sight and vision to the blind, let us pray that our own blindness and joylessness to be daily transformed into light, peace, and a joyful spirit of love to be shared with all. Amen.
Reflections offer on Sunday, April 3, 2011 to the folks at 1st Presbyterian Church, West Seneca, NY by Rev. David Persons