Lent IV: Blind Vision

Lent IV – March 26, 2017

John 9:1-41



Blind Vision

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA


Many of you have heard me speak of growing up in a family that struggled to cope with mental illness.  My mother’s illness first expressed itself after the birth of my brother.  I realized that my brother was afflicted one Thanksgiving while I was in seminary, some 25 years ago.  I was in the kitchen chopping vegetables when Roger walked into the room and asked me if I had ever heard voices chattering in the pebbles under my feet when I walked… or did I notice, when in bed at night, my eyelashes writing and making lines on the pillowcase?  I stopped chopping and turned around to look at my brother.  It was an “aha!” moment. Roger’s messy history of struggle in life suddenly made sense to me.  I knew that he was experiencing pain and torment, and I knew that he needed professional help.


I took a day off from school to take Roger to the county mental health clinic.  The wait seemed endless in the hot, crowded, dark-paneled waiting room.  Finally, we were escorted to another small dark room where a woman did a brief interview with Roger and informed us that he would need to wait another week to see a psychiatrist because, though he was suffering, he was not in crisis.  We then went for a late lunch.


After pulling into a parking space and turning off the engine, we began to talk.  We became so engaged in conversation about voices, and truth, about Lucifer, angels and God… that an hour passed before we finally left the car to eat.  We talked of theology, religion, of Buddha and of Jesus.  We talked of “the self.”  We talked of pain and of the ways that deep pain makes itself known.  I found myself engaging with the dragons of Revelation and the angels of God, with suffering and joy, with the complexities of life and with a hunger for clarity and calm.  We talked of the voices alive in Roger’s head… The way that Roger described them the voices were crisps and coherent.  Their call was so alluring that I found myself journeying to a place of “unknowing.”  I willingly walked with Roger into his experience, checking my preconceptions at the door.  I stumbled around in conceptual darkness searching for images and words, like a blind person in an unfamiliar room.  I entered that unfamiliar place to be with Roger and in that place Roger was there to guide me as I got a glimpse of his troubled world.  Exhausted and hungry we agreed that it was time to eat.


In the course of this family drama, in the midst of worrying about practical needs we were facing such as money, therapy, medication and prognosis, I was also working with this story of Jesus giving sight to the man born blind.  Blindness in this story spoke to me of spiritual blindness.  As I wandered through my days, with Roger close to my heart, I kept thinking that there was something I was not seeing.  What was I seeing, and what was I blind to in this relationships with Roger?  My concerns ran deep and helplessness abounded.  I wanted to make everything O.K.  The intersection of Jesus healing the man born blind, and Roger’s story, cried out to me in these words from the end of today’s long Gospel lesson… Words not addressed to the man who was healed of blindness, but to those who were critical of the healing and possibly annoyed that, one who could have been ignored in his disability as he sat and begged outside the city walls, had now rejoined their world.  Jesus said:


For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those

who see may become blind.   John 9:39

When the Pharisees ask, “Are we also blind?”  Jesus says to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now that you say ‘we see’, your sin remains.”


Paradox, darkness, light, seeing and “unseeing” – these neon words flashed in my mind as we began digging deeper into the condition labeled “schizophrenia.”


Sin, blindness, paradox, light… what does this all mean?  We examine, we label, we pigeonhole, we apply treatment.  In thinking about Roger’s experience I wrote these words:


voices from inside

communicate through me

the greater scope of reality


in the noise gravel voices chatter

until time crumbles and space vanishes

panic and fatigue – such a burden to carry

I am special!


the revelation is near

“don’t take the medicine” is the message I hear

…and who am I to turn away from voices calling….


In Berkeley, where I was living at the time, there were many homeless folks on the street who were suffering from mental illness.  The situation has gotten worse these past decades.  Back then, when I saw a mentally ill person on the street, my tendency would have been to look away, particularly if the dirt was heavy and the smell strong.  As an individual, the feelings were of frustration and helplessness… I simply didn’t know what to do…. The situation seemed overwhelming.


Societies determine what behaviors will be tolerated and which ones will be labeled “deviant.”   In her book Women and Madness, Phyllis Chelsea states that, “Most twentieth century women who are psychiatrically labeled, privately treated and publically hospitalized are not mad… they may be deeply unhappy, self-destructive [and] economically powerless.”[1]  Yes, there is genuine madness and, yes, sometimes the madness is not an individual’s but is society’s.  Sometimes it is both.  A cry for change – a cry to be heard – a mad cry for freedom?  A cry for food – a cry for caring – a cry for love.


We examine, we label, we pigeonhole, we apply treatment.  Are we blind to the revelation that can lie in this so-called world of “abnormality?”  As in a waking dream Roger stands in front of me looking into me with unblinking eyes.


A miracle!  Jesus anoints the blind man’s eyes with spittle and dirt.  So the blind man went, and washed, and came back seeing.


For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those

who see may become blind.   John 9:39


Why should those who “see” become blind?  In this paradox, what is the message?  Earlier in the chapter, when Jesus is asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered:


It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.   John 9:3


Can we not learn from someone whose presence seems incongruous, unpleasant, unintelligible or foreign?  Out of fear, frustration, and ignorance do we banish or ignore those whose behavior seems strange?  And do we, in a similar fashion, shut away those parts of ourselves that are unfamiliar and unintelligible?  What are we seeing… and what are we blind to?


If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now that you say “we see”, your sin remains.  John 9:41


Spiritual clarity is a dynamic, ever-changing process that occurs when the barriers between us, and within us, are dissolved and transformed into dialogues of connection, on a journey towards integration and wholeness.  When we are freed from the shackles of preconceptions, we can know a purifying blindness and, in that paradox of unseeing, we can come to a deeper level of understanding.


… of dragons and angels


…of madness and sanity


in the light of God’s call to ever greater understanding


and compassion…

revelation abounds…





[1] Chesler, Phyllis, Ph.D, Women and Madness, Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1972, pg. 25.