by Maria L. Evans
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
~Collect for Proper 11, Book of Common Prayer, p.231
In the spring of 2010, I took a train trip to central and upstate New York to visit some blogging friends. I had an opportunity to upgrade to the sleeper car from the Utica to Chicago leg of the trip, and jumped at the chance. Although I find sleeping in coach fairly easy, these days my neck doesn’t always agree with that decision.
Now, if you’ve never ridden in a sleeper car…well…there’s not a whole lot of room, especially when it’s the kind that has the toilet right in your compartment. I did a very foolish thing. I put my glasses on top of the toilet lid when I went to sleep for the night. (I bet you are already guessing what happened next.)
Yep…in the middle of the night, I got up to use the facilities, and without thinking, flipped up the toilet seat in the dark, and pulverized my glasses.
Now, I can’t see doodly-squat in front of my face without my glasses. I am farsighted and astigmatic, and these days, presbyopic, with progressive bifocals. I can see the landscape, but my arms stopped being long enough to read without them long ago.
In short, I was totally plunged into a blindness right in front of my face.
I couldn’t read the screen of my cell phone. I couldn’t read a book. I couldn’t see my watch, and when I returned home, I realized I wasn’t safe to drive because I can’t see my own dashboard without my glasses (and I have a “glasses only” restriction on my driver’s license anyway.)
To be able to see the big or distant picture but not what’s right in front of one’s nose is a frustrating thing. It requires being dependent on a lot of people just to move off the spot in which one is standing. It requires thinking about things one normally doesn’t think about, and in advance. The hardest part for me was not being able to entertain myself by reading. I was stuck only with my own thoughts when there was no one carrying on a conversation with me (and I wasn’t really hot to sit in the club car and have a conversation explaining I broke my glasses, and “would you please help me read this?”)
I had to have other people help me read menus, dial the phone, and get a friend to meet me at the train station in Ottumwa, IA with a spare pair of glasses. The most unsettling part was trying to get someone in Union Station in Chicago to help me figure out which gate I needed to make my connection. Were they really giving me the right directions? Did they even know? Were they messing with me? Was I going to end up on the wrong train? Were they stealing stuff from my suitcase as we spoke? I was also sure for all my best efforts, there were things I was missing or forgetting because I knew I was not seeing them, and all my efforts were trained on the most basic means of getting by until I got home.
Our collect reminds us that, despite our best efforts in making our way through the world, there are times of blindness–both blindnesses we suddenly find ourselves in, by accident, and blindnesses where we’re so blind we don’t even know our vision is impaired. We only know “our way of seeing things.” It’s hard to trust another way of seeing things. One of the highlights of real spiritual growth is that there is a place in our growing process where we begin to get a glimpse of how blind we’ve been and not even know it. It can create periods of guilt and shame, and if we’re careful, we can remain there too long, and can become paralyzed–both afraid to move off the spot where we’re standing (after all, we know where we are, even if it’s a very tiny corner of the world)–and too prideful to ask for help. After all, our culture prizes independence over all things.
We have a terrible tendency to dwell on what we perceive as our unworthiness. But what if we trust the notion that Jesus’ worthiness covers the playing field? What if God is not bothered in the least by our asking for things where we clearly don’t see either the big picture, or what’s right in front of our noses?
I remember decades ago as a high school student preparing to take the SAT and the ACT. I spent a lot of time learning how “failing to answer questions” or “wrong answers” affected one’s score. Now, I can’t remember which was which anymore, but I remember that in one test, your score was only based on your correct answers, and on one, wrong answers and omitted answers counted against your right ones. That knowledge changed how I approached each test.
Our relationship with God, I believe, is one where the things we ask in our blindness don’t count against us–I suspect God considers the source and loves us in our blindness–even humors us in that way we laughed at those old Mr. Magoo cartoons. Mr. Magoo’s blindness got him in some pretty laughable places, frankly.
Asking God for direction when we are blind to outcomes can be a rather scary proposition–but no scarier than asking strangers to help us change trains when we’ve crushed our glasses. Can we step forward in the next leg of our spiritual journeys with that kind of faith?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid