Most of you have heard enough of my preaching that you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I don’t want us to literalize today’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52) and make it about only physical blindness and sight. We often hear this story and think of blindness and seeing in their outward forms. But what about inward blindness and seeing? I think this story is bigger than outward and physical blindness or seeing. I think it’s a universal story that every one of us experiences even if our vision is 20/20. So let me ask you a few questions.
Do you ever feel like you are in the dark? I don’t mean that someone turned off the lights around you, but that the light within you is no longer shining. I’m talking about those times when you feel lost and you can’t see a way forward. You’re confused. There’s no clarity. Maybe the answers and beliefs that once lit your way no longer illuminate. You stumble and fumble your way through life not sure of where you are going. Or maybe it’s the darkness of fear. Maybe grief, loss, and sorrow have darkened your life. Maybe shadows from your past – shadows of guilt, regret, failure, disappointment – mimic your every move and no matter how fast you run the shadow is still there. I wonder if that’s what it was like for Bartimaeus.
Sitting on the Roadside
Do you ever feel like you are sitting on the roadside of life? Do you ever feel like everyone except you has it figured out and is going somewhere? I’m talking about those times when it feels like life is passing us by and we aren’t getting anywhere. We feel stuck, more like a spectator of life than a participant. Maybe it’s about exhaustion or a lack of wholeheartedness. Maybe its despair, inertia, indifference. Maybe it feels like your life has been turned upside down and you’ve been displaced. Maybe it feels like you don’t have any place to be and no one to miss you if you’re not there. Maybe you’ve been sidelined by loneliness, being the outsider, or offering a voice others don’t want to hear. I wonder if that’s what it was like for Bartimaeus.
Do you ever feel like you are begging for your life? I’m talking about those times when you feel depleted, the well has run dry, and you have nothing in reserve. It’s those times when life overwhelms us and we wonder how or if we’ll get by. We’re desperate and our prayer is begging and pleading to just get through another day. It’s not just that we don’t have enough, we start wondering if we are enough. I wonder if that’s what it was like for Bartimaeus.
I remember times like that in my life and I’ll bet you do too.
- A few weeks ago I told you about sitting in my law office and weeping. I had purpose to my life but no real meaning and I was sitting in my darkness and begging.
- I remember sitting in my darkness and begging after my divorce.
- I remember sitting in my darkness and begging the day my best friend John told me he had cancer. Several years later I was in again that place with him the evening I kissed him, thanked him, told him that I loved him, and then said goodbye.
- I remember sitting in my darkness and begging the night our son Brandon died, and the weeks, months, and years after that night.
- I remember sitting in my darkness and begging the day I watched the murder of George Floyd.
When have you sat in the darkness begging? When has blindness been your experience of life? When have you been sidelined? When have begging and pleading been the only prayer you had?
When have you been Bartimaeus? What happened? And what have you done with that experience? Or better yet, what has it done with you?
As much as I disliked and wanted to avoid those times of sitting in my darkness and begging they would change my life in ways that I could not foresee at the time. They changed how I see God, the world, myself, and others. And I can’t help but wonder if those times are a necessary part of our spiritual journey. Maybe they are ways in which we mature and come to ourselves. Maybe they are a gateway to the fullness of life. I am not suggesting that God intends or causes those times. I don’t believe that. I am suggesting that God does not waste them, that God wastes nothing of our lives – not our blindness, not our roadside sitting, and not our begging.
Two Kinds of Seeing
Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Did you catch what he said? Bartimaeus wants to see “again” meaning that at one point in his life he had vision. There was a time when he could see.
So, what if we were to see Bartimaeus’ life in three stages? First, Bartimaeus can see. Second, he is blind, sitting on the roadside, and begging. Third, he regains his sight. He did not, however, regain the sight he originally had. It was a different way of seeing. Here’s why I say that.
Sometimes words challenge us to see more than we think is there. The same word can have more than one meaning, and so it is with today’s gospel. We’re told that Bartimaeus wanted “to see again” and that “he regained his sight.” So we could say that he got back what he once had. That’s one way of seeing this text. But those same words can also mean that Bartimaeus wanted “to look up” and that “he looked upwards.” And that’s another way of seeing this text.
Regaining sight and looking upwards. What if both kind of seeings are necessary? What if Bartimaeus sees again but in a new way? He now looks upward. He has a higher vision and a greater consciousness.
Isn’t that the pattern of spiritual growth we see in the scriptures? Richard Rohr describes it as order, disorder, and reorder. My guess is that every one of us has lived that pattern. Isn’t that what happened to Bartimaeus? Isn’t that what happened to the Israelites? They went from Egypt, to the wilderness, to the promised land. Each of those patterns is a story of life, death, and resurrection.
The thing about sitting in our darkness and begging is that at the time we can never see what is coming to us. I don’t think blind Bartimaeus could see what or who was coming his way that day he sat on the roadside begging. The most he could do was to be faithful to his darkness, to not run away, to cry out in hope. And maybe that’s true for you and me.
We sit in our darkness begging and then one day something begins to come into focus. Things start to look different. We catch a glimpse of a new life. We have an insight about ourselves. We begin to see things in a new light. I don’t know how that happens. I only know that it does happen, even if takes years.
After my divorce when I was sitting in darkness and begging, I never saw the day coming when I would meet Cyndy, fall in love, and come back to life. But that day came and it’s still here.
During all those years of sitting in darkness and begging after Brandon died, I never foresaw a time when Cyndy and I would talk about how blessed and fortunate we are. But we do. I now see gratitudes, opportunities, and beauty I didn’t see before. Everything looks different now. And yes, it still hurts.
Until about a year ago I never saw myself as a protester. But, after George Floyd’s murder, while sitting in darkness and begging I began to see things in a new light. I went to my first protest, I participated in an anti-racism reading group, I began donating monthly to an organization that provides legal services and challenges racial and economic injustice. I see racism in a new way.
That’s what sitting in darkness and begging has done for me. It continues to open my eyes. It continues to show me new paths for my life. It continues to help me see things in a new light.
What about you? What have you learned about yourself from sitting in the darkness and begging? What are you seeing anew or maybe for the first time? In what ways is your seeing changing?
What if changing our lives and our world begins with changing how we see?