Monday, December 7, 2015

The Gift of the Blind

Mary reflects; she ponders. Even as a child they branded her the quiet one, the introvert. But this is only because they couldn’t see the power of the images inside her, or hear those voices, or taste that sweetness. She works hard too, even in the torturous noonday sun, bowing under the weight of the water pails, wrestling with the laundry, pounding the grain, not just for her family, but for the children, the neighbours, the sick, the weak and the blind.

The Holy Ones command, “Stay away from them! Stay back. Stay pure. They will infect you with their sin, inseminate you with their horror, ravage you with their hopelessness.”

But Mary rejects purity. She peers instead at the dust-encrusted face of the blind man by the well and is shocked by the pain etched across every wrinkle of that not-so-old brow, the loneliness on each sun-blotched cheek, the fear in each unseeing eye. His name is Bartimaeus, and she spies on him, reaching into his eyes with her own. She finds her village there, her family, herself. Her fingers brush the ragged arm of this outcast man, and as he trembles, she feels his pulse, senses his warmth, unveils his humanity. If she leaves him untended, then she abandons not only him, but every friend, every enemy, every person she has ever known.

Every day, she draws water first for Bartimaeus, and waits as he drinks. He sips carefully, making sure that none of the life-giving liquid is wasted, and when he is finished, she wipes his face with a damp cloth. Their conversation is ragged at first. It smoothes with time. Mary describes to him the landscape of their world, and he describes to her his life of solitude in plain view. If he has owned anything, it is time and thought, and these he shares eagerly with her.

The village women shake their heads, and keep their distance at the well. Only Joseph understands, pausing in his work on the hottest days to mop his brow and join in a drink of cool refreshing water. Bartimaeus smiles, grows quiet and listens as Mary and Joseph converse. He knows. He has heard it before.

Joseph and Mary only speak with each other at the well but their eyes meet repeatedly through the rest of their day. He nods at Mary across the sweltering market as he selects the finest wood, humble at that, and builds a shelter not for her but for the gnarled, sightless one. Bartimaeus shall have a home.

The shavings rise from Joseph’s workshop, swirl towards Mary, gather her to him. Mary reflects: there is a greater vision that does not require eyes, an understanding that forfeits ears, a wisdom that overflows the heart. And so they are betrothed, promised to each other, perfect one for the other in thought, in deed, and in love.

And now? Perhaps this would signal the end, the ‘happy ever after’, the grand finale, but there are no secrets in heaven. This love commands attention. This moment has come.

The universe rustles with hope, angels pause, the Spirit hovers.

Sacred night. Betrothed but not yet married, Mary sleeps. Suddenly the darkness shatters, all peace destroyed. She bolts upright on her sleeping mat. Listens. Gasps breathless before the Angel. How can this be? His call breaks through the night, explodes in her heart, shakes her to the soul.

A question lies veiled behind his words, but how do you answer a question such as this? What kind of a person can accept such a challenge? What kind of a God would ask this of her?

What kind of a woman would say yes?

Only one that is blind, deaf and mute. And Mary is all that: blind to social status, deaf to idle chatter, and mute before material possession. She ponders this in her heart; that blindness is nothing but inward sight, that deafness is just the potential to hear the possible, that silence is necessary to grasp the sublime.

And so, Mary stretches out towards the Presence, offers herself as sacrifice, trusts God and wraps herself around the Innocence that burgeons within her.

She will give her life for this Child that He may give His life for others. She will raise Him blind to hate. She will raise Him deaf to wealth. She will raise Him mute to insult and slander.

And she will give him the vision, the sound, and the Word of a world that belongs to God.

(Originally published in DisciplesWorld, November 2007)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Questions About Cardinals

As I sit at my desk watching the beautiful red cardinal (bird) family that lives in the tree behind my house, I can't help reflecting on their human counterparts.

The College of Cardinals exists to advise the Pope, and assist him in running the Church. Typically, only bishops or archbishops are selected for the College by the Pope, but Catholic teaching affirms that in fact any baptized Catholic may be so appointed. Understandably, this is a fact rarely covered in Sunday homilies, thus many lifelong Catholics may be unaware of it.

Calling for the inclusion of women in the College of Cardinals is thus not an act of heresy. Canadian theologian Michael W. Higgins (past president of St. Jerome’s University, current vice-president for 'Mission and Catholic Identity' at Sacred Heart University, authorized biographer of Henry Nouwen – you get it, not a Catholic lightweight), stated in a 2013 article in the Globe and Mail: “Such an innovation is not a departure from doctrine, does not compromise the church’s authority, and is not a frivolous concession to faddism. More important, it makes eminent good sense.” (

Recently, Pope Francis took steps to diversify the College of Cardinals by selecting 20 new members from 18 different countries. None were from the US, and only one was from within the Vatican bureaucracy. Clearly, he values advice from a variety of voices. However, all the new cardinals are bishops, so there is still work to do to include lay people - both men and women.

Francis had had his struggles with the College of Cardinals as it stood before these new appointments. In 2014, he demoted ultra-conservative Cardinal Burke from his powerful position within the Vatican court. Burke made headlines recently for lamenting the ‘feminization’ of the Church. In late December, Francis also harangued the College for its cliquish behavior and a “catalogue of illnesses” that included “spiritual Alzheimer’s” (yes, he said the words in quotes).

So the time is ripe for change, and the Pope knows it. It is time for women in the College of Cardinals. As I watch the birds twitter, circle each other, and converse against a background of pristine snow, I can only think what a beautiful thing it would be.