The blindness of Saul

By Jennifer McKenzie

“Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Him in all his redeeming work…” –Book of Common Prayer, pg. 224, Collect for “Third Sunday of Easter.”

Close your eyes. Just for a minute. What is it like to sit in that darkness? When I do this it’s not exactly total darkness that I experience. Sometimes there are these weird little flashes of light or color. I can usually sense contrast in my environment –where light is coming from, where the shadows are. But I can’t really see. I can only imagine what’s in front of me. I have to trust my intuition and my memory of my environment. I have to make decisions in my mind’s eye about where obstacles are and how to navigate to where I’m trying to go.

We’ve all had that experience, one way or another. You get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, curtains drawn and you leave the lights off so as not to disturb your partner. It’s a challenge, but not too much of one. After all, the terrain map is safely stored in your memory. You’ve inadvertently trained yourself by walking this way so many times before in the light. So what, it’s dark now. Big deal. You just use your hands to guide you – palms out, fingers pulled back slightly, shuffling slowly around trying not to bump into the doorframe…it’s an odd feeling of determined confidence under-girded by modest fear.

But there’s another version of this experience that we’ve probably all had, too. The one where you’re going along fine at first, only to discover that you are ever-so-slightly off course. You thought you were poised to walk right through the center of the open doorway when in fact your foot catches the nightstand and you realized in that instant of yelping expletives with your lips clamped tight that you were about a foot off course. Ouch! The problem with walking in the dark is that we can usually go along fine for a while – sometimes a good while – dependent on our own instincts and the path we’ve carved in our minds. So we deceive ourselves about how accurately we’re navigating our way, and suddenly we’re caught up short – we miss the mark.

The New Testament Book of Acts, Chapter 9 recounts the conversion of Saul, whom God renames Paul. St. Paul. Paul thinks he knows the way. He has that determined confidence that he is doing what is right in God’s sight. But ironically he is walking in spiritual darkness. And he’s been going down the wrong path long enough that he gets blinded by the light. God covers his eyes with scaly-somethings so that he must be still for three days in physical darkness. And there he sits in the “house of Judas” on the “road called Straight.” And while he has no vision, he has A Vision. A Vision of sight regained. A Vision of regained sight.

This Saul, who had been “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…who belonged to The Way” is a zealous lover of God and of God’s law. The problem was that he was blind to the fact that God could be doing a new thing. That just didn’t fit in with his religious worldview. But this Saul is the very one who founded new churches – communities of faith called ekklesia – all over the Mediterranean world, and risked his own life, several times over to do it. This Saul had his sight restored and a new vision grafted into his heart. This Saul, God said, “is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it, that while clearly God doesn’t always call the qualified, God is always able to qualify the called…and to open the eyes of our faith, so that we can see our lives anew.

The Rev. Jennifer McKenzie, assistant rector at St. David’s, in Washington, D. C., recently accepted a call to be associate rector for Evangelism, Mission/Outreach, and Adult Discipleship at Christ Church, Alexandria. She blogs at The Reverend Mother.

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