Seeing things in a new way

Yesterday, I had cataract surgery on a second eye. The first time I went because the Optician said I needed to have it done. This time I went because I became aware that I couldn’t see things clearly anymore, they weren’t in focus, and there seemed to be a film over my eye that distorted my vision. I was aware throughout these weeks that this is an image of the spiritual journey and I was reminded that in Mark’s gospel the central section which is a journey to Jerusalem begins and ends with the healing of a man who is blind. This biblical technique, inclusion, is a way the author emphasizes that the central journey is nothing else except a healing of the blindness of those who accompany Jesus. You might remember that Jesus healed a man in two phases; first, the man could see a little — men look like trees to me — and then Jesus healed him  completely. Likewise Peter insist that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, but refuses to accept Jesus as Suffering Servant. In other words he sees Jesus only partially and needs to be healed a second time so that he can see completely who Jesus is for us. It’s as if Peter has a cataract!

The first time I had cataract surgery I didn’t appreciate that it was possible to see things much more clearly than I did. We all tend to think that the little we see is all there is to see, especially from a religious point of view. You might remember the story John tells of the blind old man who constantly tells his clearly seeing young guide where to go; the old man thinks that the little he sees is all there is to see, whereas the young guide who sees clearly is pushed around and ignored. That’s where John of the Cross comes in and challenges us to journey through the dark night and discover a new way of seeing ourselves, our relationship to others, and our understanding of God. We must learn to see what others do not see and to also see what we have always seen but to see it in a new way. This implies removing false values and letting God remove them from blocking our vision. “The appetities are like a cataract on the eye or specks of dust in it; until removed they obstruct vision” (I A 9, 4). False desires appear as new and attractive ideas. “The reason is that a new light set directly  in front of the visual faculty blinds this faculty so that it fails to see the light farther away” (I A 9, 3). “The blindness of the rational and superior feeling is the appetite that, like a cataract and cloud, interferes with and hangs over the eye of reason so things present cannot be seen” (LF 3, 72). “Since the cataract and cloud shrouds the eye of judgment, only the cataract is seen, sometimes of one color, sometimes another, according to the way the cataract appears to the eye. People judge that the cataract is God because, as I say, they see only the cataract that covers the faculty, and God cannot be grasped by the senses” (LF 3, 73).

So, I take my own experience of this week as a reminder that the spiritual journey is partly made of our own efforts to look at things in a different way, and that requires training and new priorities, but it also requires the surgery of the dark night when God is in charge, removing the cataracts that block the vision God intends us to see.

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