Thursday, May 31, 2012

Healing from Spiritual Blindness

Healing from Spiritual Blindness

One of the most vital healings that must take place in our journey of transformation is the healing of spiritual blindness. The ancient Celtic hymn, "Be Thou My Vision" is an invocation and prayer for that healing. We ask that Christ be our eyes, Christ be our vision, that we come to see life and the world through the eyes of Christ.

One way that we come to this healing is that we *ask* for healed sight. In the story of Bartimaeus  (Mark 10:46) we have an example of the healing of a physical sight, but with intimations of the opening and awakening to spiritual sight.  This story has been used as a source for the longer form of the Jesus Prayer in the Prayer of the Heart tradition. ("Jesus, son of David, have mercy.")  In the story Bartimaeus has an intuition of “seeing” and of the One who can help him "see." ” In his helplessness and Faith, he trusts the One who is greater than his own personal powers. He receives his physical sight, but we may read into the story that he has regained also his spiritual sight of the remembrance of God as the Source of life and wholeness. The awakening to the unified inner vision of Faith is the real healing and the occasion of the healing of his physical limit.
Another way we come to the healing of our spiritual sight is through life crisis. Crisis happens. In such a crisis our usual patterns are rendered helpless; we are “knocked from our high horse.” In the Acts of the Apostles there is a dramatic account of such an event in Paul’s awakening from blocked spiritual vision. (Acts 9:1) Paul has become a violent and brutal man, consumed and possessed by the demon of his arrogance and grandiose self -righteousness. He is possessed with an obsession for control to the degree he is willing to commit murder. His killing and persecution of others stems from a self-absorbed conviction and grandiosity that he alone possesses truth and no one may live, no one may be acceptable, who is not inside the circle of his pride.  Paul is brought low; his physical vision is lost entirely. His spiritual blindness is metaphorically revealed in physical blindness. But he cannot open to spiritual vision until he experiences the crisis of his helplessness, and the healing of it in surrender to Christ. He must look outside the pride of own self-creation for help and resolution.  His encounter with Christ as a lightning bolt knocking him to the ground becomes his salvation. Only then is he willing to look beyond himself and his pride for help, and the scales eventually do fall from his eyes.

Paul’s pre-conversion behavior may be a good example of what we are now seeing in our times as a symptom of the death throes of tribal ethnic religion, with the rise of militant fundamentalist and violent religious movements in nearly every continent and religion in the world, including out own. This mythic membership, tribal level of consciousness, as it is called by Ken Wilber in his books, (Anatomy of Consciousness, The Atman Project) is marked by the preoccupation of the believer with the question of who is in or out of "my particular circle," rather than the awakening to the Circle that encompasses us all.  It has been thought the violence of 9/11 was an attempt to incite global war between the Abrahamic Faiths, and to some extent it has succeeded. In the long run we shall hope it will fail and result in greater desire for communion and understanding. Yet all of us are capable of Paul's exclusion, fear, and violence. Today all of us should hear Christ calling to us, like Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?”

For us what is the awakening of spiritual vision? What are the scales on our eyes?  They are the filters of vision created by the self-made self.  To be healed we must move from a self-absorbed narcissistic vision to a unitive Christocentric awareness of Love. Our beliefs and schemes will not heal our vision. Only the experience of the healing touch of Christ in our practice will heal our vision. John Main speaks the Way of the Heart in the praxis of Christian meditation in this way: “" Meditation is returning to your own center, and finding that it is the gateway to the Center of all." (Main, The Heart of Creation, p.29) When we find oneness in the Heart of Christ, our Center, we live in the awareness of our oneness with all things. St. Gregory of Nazaianzus says it this way, "Christ exists in all things that are." (Ryan, p. 31) The healing of spiritual blindness is the awakening to Oneness in Christ. It is the means by which the filters of vision of my self, my tribe, my gender, my opinions, my church, my culture, my language, my country, and my world are dismantled. I can then open to the Mystery of Christ who embraces all, and draws all unto Himself. This is our true awakening from spiritual blindness. "The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw - and knew I saw- all things in God and God in all things." Mechtild of Madeburg (Ryan, p.31)

The mind is the source of filters to our vision; the Heart is the seat of true spiritual “seeing” or awareness. Only by learning to observe the mind and disengage from its tyranny can we really let the heart expand and open to unitive love in Prayer of the Heart. Hadewich of Antwerp (12c.) says of this release from the mind's filters: “Tighten to nothing the circle that is the world’s things. Let the naked circle expand to encompass All.”(Hirshfield, p.100) The "naked circle" is the circle of Christ in the Heart. Our vision is one of either smaller and smaller circles, or larger and larger ones, until our vision is healed and opens to the Circle of the universal Heart of Christ which encompasses All. 

Even the insight of Christians of the Mystery of Christ is always a limited one. Christ is not the exclusive property of those who call themselves Christians or of the Christian churches. Thank God for that! Christ, His Life, His love, His wisdom, communion with Him is accessible to all, regardless of what name they call Him, or under what concept His Reality is known. He is not an exclusion clause, but the Heart of the Universe, the Heart of God.

It is good to recognize the markers of our blindness, the fear, judgement, and rejection of the stranger. Our xenophobia, putting what the mind doesn't grasp outside the circle of Christ, that is our adversary with whom we struggle.  We must recognize our grasping the comfortable and familiar "isms" and ideologies. We must be vigilant in seeing the “log” in our own eyes. Those "logs" are described aptly in the psychological defense mechanisms of rationalization, repression, projection, and denial. We can cultivate the dismantling and release of these ego filters in our practice of Breathing Yeshua. In our practice of the kenosis of Christ we bow and offer ceaselessly in our moments of helplessness, in our willingness to loosen the grasping hand of control, to yield our insistence on the world being the way we think it should be. In this disposition we can find ourselves healed both in the intuitive trust of Bartimaeus and in the yielding and helpless surrender of Paul.  We can be healed to the Christ Vision of Unitive Love. A spiritual elder, mystic, and teacher of our times, Thomas Hand S.J. spoke this simple truth of the unitive vision of Christ in a contemplative talk in 1997 at Shalom Prayer Center. "The God experience is awakening to Oneness and fully accepting and living the consequences."

The world in which we live, all Creation, is translucent, filled and shining with the Glory of Christ. Because of blocked spiritual vision most of us don't see it. But we can be surprised.  We can be opened to this glory unexpectedly. My lightning moment, being knocked off my high horse, or perhaps more appropriately, cut off at the knees, was the occasion of the sickness and death of my son. At the time of his cremation with my wife and my spiritual mentor, Doug, I sat in silent meditation in the crematorium. Within me was a great struggle as waves of anger, bitterness, and despair passed through my mind. The challenge of emptying and releasing was great. At a certain point when it seemed nothing was left, a peace arose in me of calm and quiet. Looking at one another that it was time, we rose together and left the room and walked outside into the light of a September day in late morning. The morning mist was lifting. I looked around at the trees and the brown hills of late summer. For just a moment the physical world suddenly disappeared and there remained a pure Radiance shining through everything, a Life, a Presence of Fire and Love. A wordless communication spoke from this Fire, "He is my beloved child, he is forever one with me and one with you."  The Radiant Life has never left me and I have never left It.  At that moment the scales fell for me and the circle of the Light of Christ became my vision.

The monk, Thomas Merton, describes such a moment of the healing of his spiritual blindness. He had long wrestled with his sense of isolation from the world, and his desire to find a unitive vision to reconcile the life of the solitary hermit monastic with the life of compassionate concern for the world.
"In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. … Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other." (Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander )

 In this moment Merton finds the healing of his spiritual vision, where a thunderbolt on the corner of Fourth and Walnut takes him into the unitive vision of Christ, seeing the world and all beings with the Lumen Christi, Light of Christ. We can be surprised and our vision healed in the Glory of Christ, on a street corner in Louisville, or at a crematorium in Portland, Oregon.