(Vsetín, Zlinsky Kraj, Česká republika)- Well, three weeks after the U.S. switched to Daylight Savings Time, we did the same thing yesterday and I miss that hour already. It’s not so much that I lost an hour of sleep…wait it IS that I lost an hour of sleep. Well considering my recent sleep patterns I’ll probably return to normal by the time we turn back our clocks next fall. At least it is still light at 7 pm. Now if I was on a farm, I could get more plowing and planting done before the sun sets. Being so far north from the latitude I am used to in California and as time goes on, there will be earlier sunrises and longer days before sunset. I hope this little science lesson is helpful to you. Consider it a public service.
Yesterday I went to Mass at Svatý Hostýn, the spiritual center of Moravia and also a pilgrimage site. It is a very peaceful place on top of a mountain. Although the service was in Czech I recognized the rose color of the fourth Sunday in Lent or Laetare Sunday. Here the vestments of the priest change from the violet of the first three weeks of Lent to rose colored. I’m guessing that this is to remind people that Lent is almost over so “buck up” because the period of fasting is almost at an end and Easter is right around the corner. The readings reflect this hope as well as well as an admonition not to judge by appearances only.
The LORD said to Samuel:
“Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons.” (1 Sam 16 ff)
Samuel who was King Saul’s prophet gets fed up with Saul because Saul has become rather dickish and is sent to find a new king of Israel at Jesse’s house in downtown Bethlehem. Saul, the first king, was a disaster and it was time to find a replacement. Of course God doesn’t tell him the name of the new king so it’s up to Samuel to figure it out. I guess God likes to speak in puzzles. When Samuel arrives at Jesse’s house he looks among Jesse’s sons for the next king. I can imagine that they all looked king-able, probably muscle bound and handsome. But looks aren’t the only thing that makes a king and so Samuel passes over all, or almost all, of Jesse’s kids. When Sam asks Jes (they were on a first name basis) if he had anymore kids Jesse says, “mmmm let me see. Oh yeah, I have one more, he’s the youngest and he’s out taking care of the sheep.” (Must have been during Eastern European Summertime time). Long story short, the youngest happens to be David and that’s the kid that Samuel anoints as the next king. As it turns out, this kid is destined to become Israel’s greatest king. So outward appearances don’t always jive with what’s in the person’s heart. I may look like a superstar but when I open my mouth to sing you realize that I can’t carry a tune. When I sent out my CV to various schools last year to teach English I also included a fetching picture of myself. I am almost certain that the picture was the deal breaker. Had they taken the time to chat with me and had realized what a gem I was, I would be ensconced now at their school…maybe. Their loss, the Czech Republic’s gain…na-na-na-na-na-na!
The Gospel reading is also about discovery and simplicity and appearances leading to greatness. This depends on people having
the ability to really see stuff. As in the story of Samuel who could see into the very soul of David, discounting his apparent youth and physical appearance to see beyond, comes the story of the man born blind told in John’s Gospel. Seems there was this guy who according to his folks was blind from birth. Jesus spits on some dirt and rubs it on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He does what he is told and immediately sees. People can’t believe it and even more so they can’t believe it was the poor traveling rabbi who cured him. Appearances are deceiving. Other than Jesus and his disciples and of course, the guy who’s sight was restored, no one got it. How this all started was that some people had brought the blind man to Jesus and asked him:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?” (Jn 9 ff)
Jesus simply says, neither. I read from various sources that calamities are often blamed by preachers on an angry God who punishes people for their sinfulness. Nature, being bigger than ourselves is often used as the “hand of God” punishment on a sinful world. It’s an easy (and lazy) explanation and to some unfortunately, it makes sense. The heavy rain in the UK recently was blamed on gays. Even Pat Robertson blamed Hurricane Katrina on the sinfulness of the French Quarter in New Orleans (although the brunt of the storm hit the very poor 9th ward of that city and bypassed the French Quarter- I guess Robertson’s God needs glasses or better aim). Disabilities that hit people and families used to be (maybe still are) blamed on the sins of ancestors and family members. So the guy who was born blind must have come from a sinning family. I guess this explanation makes some sense to some people but, think about it, if disabilities and disastrous weather phenomena come from a loving God, then what the heck is going on here? This notion of making God happy or angry doesn’t correspond to John’s teaching that “God is Love.” If God is love and that love is unconditional (no quid pro quo or strings attached), then I really can’t make God angry or even happy. I’m not that powerful. What I can do is try and live what I think is my human nature as a created being from a loving God (since the spirit of the Creator was passed to us in the story of the first humans in Genesis), and that nature is to learn to love and allow myself to be loved in return. It is the only think that makes any lasting sense to me. That, to me, is real power and glory not based on wealth and prestige.
So when the religious elders can’t believe this itinerant preacher helped the blind man restore his sight because preacher wasn’t “like them” or when Samuel chose the skinny kid over his handsome brothers, I am reminded again that outward appearances don’t always give an insight into the quality of the soul. The grace of being able to see through stuff is, like word grace suggests, a gift that can be accepted or rejected. One of the hardest priciples of the spirituality of Ignatius Loyola for me has been to “presume goodwill” in people. Yes I have been duped over the years, but I still try and adhere and practice this principle. It’s not easy at times especially when I have been burnt but the alternative is denial and suspicion, two things which are hard to keep up all the time and really don’t bring much “laetare” in my daily comings and goings. But I do know that if I spend my time judging others I too become blind. Sometimes the box that the gift comes in is beautiful on the outside, but the gift inside may be crap. Or, better still, the box may be ordinary, but what’s inside may be a treasure. I don’t know until I go beyond appearances.
and so it goes…