- A man unnamed in John’s Gospel
There is a recurring scene in the classic Robin Williams film Patch Adams where Patch’s roommate in a mental health facility holds four fingers in front of his face asking the residents “What do you see?” The man gets very angry as over and over again residents respond incorrectly to his question with the obvious answer “four fingers.” Finally it is Robin William’s character who comes to the correct answer. In a quiet moment alone in their room the man holds four fingers before his face and asks (and this is a paraphrase)
“What do you see?”
“I see four fingers”
“No look beyond the problem.”
As Patch gazes at the man’s fingers his eyes come in and out of focus and then he sees the correct answer.
“Yes! The man tells him. You see what others don’t see. You see what they are afraid to see. Look at me, I am more than this crazy bitter old man.”
Brilliant. There is always more. There is always more that our eyes fail to see, or we are afraid to allow ourselves to see. After giving a blind man sight Jesus said to the skeptical and “unseeing” Pharisees, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
I never understood that scene from Patch Adams until one day my Spiritual Director held four fingers in front of his face and asked me,
“What do you see?”
“Four fingers.” I said to him.
My Spiritual Director unlike the man in the film is not a crazy old man. He just smiled and patiently kept his fingers before his face.
“Oh.” I said with a smile. “I see you.”
And how often do I fail to see the real person in front of me when the only thing I see is what I perceive to be their sin? How often do I fail to see the real anything in front of me when the only thing I see is what I perceive to be its sin or its broken places?
My Lenten experience this year is not one of giving up certain vices. This year it is an experience of inviting the Spirit of God to help me see what is real. It is an experience by which I hope to “forget what I know” and see the world I live in through a new lens. Buddhist thought calls this beginners mind. It is having the mind of the child that receives all things as new and full of possibilities. The great African American preacher and theologian Howard Thurman called this the growing edge. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said that any who want to enter the Kingdom of God must be like the children. This is certainly what he was speaking of when he said to the Pharisees “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” The blind man’s community held four fingers as they looked upon this member who was blind from birth and now could see. All they could see was his sin (which didn’t exist), and the sins and therefore illegitimacy of Jesus and his healing. They had created this vision for community that said disease or brokenness had to be related to personal or familial sin. This vision of community disallowed for even the work of God to occur within a person if it were on the Sabbath. And surely Jesus who did and said things that stood outside of this vision for community could not possibly be of God. They looked upon this man’s healing experience through the lens of this false structure they had created and therefore were unable to see that it was real. It did not fit within the limits of their vision.
Their experience reminds me of this statement made by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic work Life Together. “He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” They had created a vision of community undergirded by beautiful roots, vibrant history, and good intentions, and yet, this vision for community clouded what was real and tried to prevent the work of God through Jesus Christ from succeeding. This new work did not fit within the structure of the community. They could not look beyond the perceived problem to see the beautiful new creation right before them.
With eyes towards the cross and the resurrection, Lent's culmination I invite you to reflect on these words of Howard Thurman.
Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying
and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and
life is being born.
The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are
silently at work in the darkness
of the earth against a time when there shall be new lives,
fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge!
It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung,
the one more thing to try when all else has failed,
the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon
all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair,
the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men
have lost their reason, the source of confidence when
worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.
The birth of a child - life’s most dramatic answer to death –
this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!”
There is always more. With God there is always more than what can be contained in the boundaries and structures and visions we have formed.
So give me new eyes to see Lord Jesus. Let me not see the perceived problems or sins in front of me rather give me eyes to see the beauty in front of me. Give me the mind of a child; full of expectations and ready to believe that all things are possible. Turn my eyes to the growing edge where new life is always emerging.