Monday, March 31, 2014

Caving and Light

One of our trips to Saltpeter Cave in TN
Readings for Sunday, March 30/ 4th Sunday of Lent:
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Psalm 23:1-6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

My first summer assignment as a seminarian was to be a camp counselor at a boys’ wilderness camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (check them out here). I signed up to be a caving instructor, not realizing the caves they would use and the caves I was thinking of were nothing at all alike. One particular cave we would explore was Worley’s Cave in Tennessee. It went two miles into the earth – one way in, one way out – and it had a whole slew of offshoot caves such that you could spend days exploring all over inside of it. And so we did. One trip we actually stayed inside the cave on a nice tall ledge, the top of which was large enough for the whole group to comfortably set up sleeping bags. At the end of the evening we all settled in our bags and I got it mine, took of my helmet with light and placed it next to me and went to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night and reached over for my light and, much to my shock, it wasn’t there. I began frantically searching around, as I thought the kids had woken up in the night and played a joke on me. After a few terrified moments I finally touched my helmet and light to discover that everyone was in their place except me. I had apparently been a bit restless and moved several feet away from where I had started. In that moment I realized just how much I was not made for darkness; I am supposed to be in light.

In the Letter to the Ephesians today we heard St. Paul say, “You were once darkness (not were IN darkness, but WERE darkness) but now you are light in the Lord.” That little line is the story of the man born blind and it is our story as well.

The man born blind was perceived as a great sinner because an ailment was viewed as the result of someone’s sin. This is actually referent to Adam and Eve as well. In the beginning they fell to sin and part of the consequence is what theologians call a ‘darkening of the intellect,’ namely that we are not able to understand and ‘see’ as God sees anymore. That’s why we hear the story of Jesse and Samuel trying to pick out which of Jesse’s sons was to be the king and they continually fail because “man sees the appearance but God sees into the heart.” And so we struggle to see clearly even today. The blind man is alongside us in that state and the Lord comes to him and works what is surely one of the weirdest miracles: He spits on the ground, rubs it in his eyes, and send him off to wash. Weird though is seems, there is a great theology being spoken here. First the spitting into the ground is symbolic of Christ taking on our humanity. He humbles himself to be one with us and would soon offer Himself up to save us all. The rubbing of the saliva-dirt mixture personalizes that reality and one can see in a sense that Jesus is rubbing Himself into the eyes of the man, that the man would now look out through the lens of Jesus Christ. Also significant is the sending of the man to the pool of Siloam. St. John here emphasizes that the pool was called ‘sent’ and seems to do so because all throughout the Gospel Jesus says ‘I am the one who is sent.’ It seems that Jesus is telling the man to go wash in the pool that is Christ Himself. And when that happens he is healed of the blindness and comes running back to the community, who is confused by his presence. They think it’s him but they’re not sure. To this confusion he responds, ‘I am!’ In our modern context it seems that he is simply saying, ‘Yes, I am the one, it’s me guys!’ but there is much more. In John’s Gospel in numerous places Jesus says, “I Am…” and continues with a description of Himself. In the agony in the Garden Jesus is awaiting the army of men to take Him away and when they arrive Jesus asks, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They respond, ‘Jesus the Nazorean.’ He responds simply with, “I AM.” And with that, the scriptures tell us, they were knocked off their feet. I am is the Divine Name revealed in the Old Testament, so it holds great power. This blind man is essentially living the words St. Paul would later write to the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” He was like another Christ because he had been immersed in Him and given His eyes to see.  And this is our story as well.

In Baptism each one of us was born blinded by original sin – we were darkness – but Jesus Christ came in the person of the minister of the Church and spread not spit and dirt in our eyes, but spread holy oils and the Sign of the Cross on our head, breast, and back. Then we were washed in the water that symbolizes the life of Christ and made like another Christ – we are light in the Lord, meant to be shared with the world. We have been healed of the blindness of sin, but to be honest with you I sometimes don’t really feel like it. I know that I have been given the eyes to see like Jesus, but so often I fail to do so. I know I have been given the heart to love like Jesus, but so often I fail to do so. I know that I have been given the strength to serve others, to endure trials, to be patient with others, and many other things, but I fail to do so. I know that I have been healed of my blindness, but sometimes I still feel very much in the dark. In those times I have to remind myself that, just like my experience in that cave, it was not the light that left me but I who left the light. Through so many little actions I spiritually close my eyes to the light of Jesus Christ, but it is that same Jesus who waits for me each and every day to come back to cast out again the darkness that I often try to reclaim into my heart.

In our diocese and throughout the country there is a program going on during Lent called “The Light Is On For You”. It is a program to encourage use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, taking it’s name from the little light outside many confessionals that indicate the priest ready to absolve from sins. As I was thinking about it, our parishes don’t have light on the outside, but the inside. It’s like another little way of recognizing that we are darkness sometimes by our choice to sin, but we are never unable to immerse ourselves in the light by stepping into the light that is found is that reconciliation room. There is nothing to keep us form receiving the grace, love, and mercy of our God aside form ourselves. So, the question is are we ready to step into the light? Are we ready to immerse ourselves once more in He who is the Light of the World that our darkness might be cast out again? Be not afraid to come to Confession. There is no judgment, but only mercy, peace, joy, and light.