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We’ve been talking in this series about the nature of faith and spirituality – how faith is something more than simply believing doctrinal statements about Reality, God, and life – it’s about the heart, an experience that goes deeper than the mind and thoughts and impacts the deepest part of our selves and works itself out in acts of compassion and love and unselfish service. We’ve seen that the original words for faith describe more than reason and propositional beliefs (read the last several blog posts to see the whole picture here). Fiducia is about a relaxed, worry-free trust and confidence in God. Fidelitas emphasizes a deep loyalty, allegiance, and faithfulness in heart, soul, mind, and body to God – a desire and choice to stay on the journey no matter what. And Visio is vision, a way of seeing – a way of seeing “what is,” of seeing the whole – a choice to see Reality, God, the Sacred as life-giving and nourishing (as opposed to hostile and threatening or indifferent). So let’s unpack Visio a bit more and notice how vision (how you see the whole) impacts personal faith and spirituality.
Faith As Vision (Seeing What Is)
There’s an ancient story about Jesus and a blind man that illustrates the nature of faith as Visio and how that impacts life:
35-37Jesus came to the outskirts of Jericho. A blind man was sitting beside the road asking for handouts. When he heard the rustle of the crowd, he asked what was going on. They told him, “Jesus the Nazarene is going by.” 38He yelled, “Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”
39Those ahead of Jesus told the man to shut up, but he only yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”
40Jesus stopped and ordered him to be brought over. When he had come near, Jesus asked, “What do you want from me?” 41He said, “Master, I want to see again.” 42-43Jesus said, “Go ahead—see again! Your faith has saved and healed you!” The healing was instant: He looked up, seeing—and then followed Jesus, glorifying God. Everyone in the street joined in, shouting praise to God. (Luke 18)
Notice the contrasting visions of Reality, God, and life between the crowd and the blind man. Placed in the context of theologian H. Richard Niebuhr’s description of the 3 ways of seeing “the Whole” – Reality and Life (as I described in my last blog post) – it’s interesting to see how those differing “visions” play out in this story.
|THE CROWD||THE BLIND MAN|
|Who Jesus is: the Nazarene – a local religious dignitary at best; so he’s being seen as too busy to help a blind man; plus this view says that blindness is a punishment from God so why would a religious leader help? The blind man is under divine judgment.||Who Jesus is: Son of David – a designation for Messiah, chosen of God; Jesus is God’s representative.|
|How Jesus will respond: don’t bother him – he’s too busy, too important||How Jesus will respond: if I can just be noticed or make myself heard, Jesus will listen and do something for me; God is on the side of sinners|
|The Universe: conditional; you get only what you deserve, and you deserve only what you put it; different “layers” or stratas in life based upon worthiness, value||The Universe: capable of giving mercy; responsive to need|
|Life Response: structured and ordered – must follow by the rules of those structures – must act appropriately (keep yourself in your designated place)||Life Response: courageous; break the rules at times when the need is greater than the system; some confidence of being heard; live life with passion and desire; express it|
There are some significant implications of these contrasting visions for our faith journey:
- Notice how Jesus connects the issue of faith with “seeing” in the blind man’s experience. In contrast to the crowd who “sees” Jesus in a very limited way (a local man, albeit a religious dignitary), this blind man, even before he’s healed of his physical blindness, in fact already “sees” – Jesus affirms to him, “You’re actually ‘seeing’ more than these other people who have their eyesight.” The man’s faith in Jesus as the Chosen of God (the anointed Messiah who comes to deliver captives and bring wholeness to the broken of Israel) reveals his “enlightenment” and ability to “see.” This man’s “vision” of Jesus is as one from God who will bring him healing or at the very least is interested in his well-being and state in life. If nothing else, Jesus will at least give him some alms for his next meal. His view of God’s Kingdom is one of well-being, being nourished and sustained – the God of this Kingdom is gracious. And this kind of faith empowers the man with courage, with boldness, with persistence and tenacity in the face of obstacles and social rejection. The point illustrated here is, how you “see” the whole impacts your experience!
- Jesus says to him, “Your faith has saved you and healed you!” Those are the words for wholeness and salvation and completeness – before he has received his physical eyesight. Seeing – vision – this kind of faith – is a matter of the heart, the perspective – a choice you make about how you want to look at life, the world, the universe, God. You may not be able to prove it all, but you choose to live with a paradigm of grace, confidence, compassion, and self-forgetfulness – a belief in God as a gracious, supportive, compassionate, faithful Force in your life that empowers you to not live in fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and insecurity. One whom you’re willing to follow even when you might not feel all the reality of it. It’s still truth to you and you shape your life around it. As Neibuhr said, How we see the whole radically affects how we respond to life!
So here are some personal questions for your reflection:
- Where are you in the three differing views of Reality Niebuhr describes (see my last blog post) with your VISION for Life and Faith? Which “reality” tends to be what you SEE? Why?
- What do you tend to do to cultivate that VISION?
- In this series, we’ve talked about FAITH as confident trust, faithfulness/loyalty, and vision of a gracious God. Which of those words for faith do you relate to the most (tends to be your “normal” faith experience)? Which one would you like to possess the most?
Remember Mother Teresa and how her diary reveals the deep doubts and frequent sense of abandonment by God she experienced in her life? And yet, in the midst of all this darkness, she continued living her life, following the Way of Jesus of self-forgetfulness and abandonment to God, by giving herself tireless and compassionately to the forsaken ones in Calcutta. In reality, she was empowered to live this powerful life because she made a choice to “see” all of Life, including her faith in God and her view of others, in the context of goodness and graciousness. She made a commitment to that Vision.
In an undated diary entry written to Jesus, she wrote, “If this brings You glory — if souls are brought to you [because of my struggling with personal darkness and pain from not feeling your Presence] — with joy I accept all to the end of my life.”
TIME magazine, in August 2007, did a cover story titled, “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith,” after her diary was published. They told the story about her encounter in 1968 with the British writer-turned-filmmaker Malcolm Muggeridge who visited Teresa. Muggeridge had been an outspoken agnostic, but by the time he arrived with a film crew in Calcutta he was in full spiritual-search mode. Beyond impressing him with her work and her holiness, she wrote a letter to him in 1970 that addressed his doubts full-bore. It was almost like she was talking to herself and describing her own journey of faith.
She wrote: “Your longing for God is so deep and yet He keeps Himself away from you,” she wrote. “He must be forcing Himself to do so — because he loves you so much — the personal love Christ has for you is infinite — The Small difficulty you have re His Church is finite — Overcome the finite with the infinite.”
Muggeridge apparently did. He became an outspoken Christian apologist and converted to Catholicism in 1982. His 1969 film, Something Beautiful for God, supported by a 1971 book of the same title, made Teresa an international sensation. And Mother Teresa apparently heeded her own advice – she walked through the darkness by overcoming the finite with the infinite. She chose to maintain her faith in the God of her Beloved Jesus even when she couldn’t feel the love. She chose to give the Love anyway, in acts of profound self-forgetfulness and compassion, to those who needed it.
Faith as vision chooses to see the Whole of life in a very profound way – that Life is nourishing and life-giving, that God is gracious, even in the midst of not experiencing it that way all the time. Because in the end, that vision is the most empowering for a life of compassion, giving, and unselfish serving and blessing to the world. Faith isn’t just a matter of the head – believing certain propositional statements about God – faith is a matter of the heart – a deliberate choosing to allow your heart to trust, to have confidence, to be faithful and loyal to the best in Life – and yes, to believe (which before modern times literally meant to belove) – to believe that God is gracious – to belove God and to belove what God beloves. That’s the kind of faith that produces an empowering and sustaining spiritual life!
So how’s your vision today? How about joining me in the following personal prayer.
MY PRAYER: “If Jesus were here in front of me today and asked me what I wanted, like the blind man, I would say, ‘Master, I want to see again!’ I confess there are times when I look at life through the lens of fear, anxiety, self-preoccupation and lack of confidence. But today I choose to see the Universe as life-giving and nourishing. I choose to see beauty and feel wonder and awe and gratitude for life. I choose, God, to see you as gracious and compassionate. I choose to be willing to live beyond myself, to spend and be spent for the sake of others. I choose to live in freedom, joy, peace, and love. O God, I want to see! Amen.”