At the birthday party, I experienced this same transformation. In the course of dinner conversation over that uncorked and flowing bottle, I poured out my own heart. I chose to be fully present to the reality of my own suffering and, in its midst, to participate in joy by celebrating — really celebrating — the life of a beloved friend. Where before there had been only lukewarm water, I was now filled to the brim with the good wine of his Life. Cheap merlot never tasted so delicious.
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The whole experience unfolded as it did because that particular story from John had soaked down into my heart, and Christ stood ready to reveal a new sign by bringing that text into transformative dialogue with the ups and downs of my life. I could see it — and Jesus — and myself — in a whole new light. In the ninth chapter of John, Jesus singles out a man blind from birth and offers him sight. By choosing to claim his new sight as his own in the midst of a dauntingly complex and antagonistic new world, he receives the grace of insight or illumination, a foretaste of glory.
So he went off and washed and came back able to see. This synergy and even co-identification between the man and Jesus is crucial, and points to a breath-taking reality of the Johannine vision of discipleship. As a light-bearer in a dark world, like Jesus, he or she will be brought into conflict with darkness, which will try to overtake the light at every turn.
A key to my own relationship with Jesus in this passage has been a simple question: What was the first thing this man saw when his sight returned? And that inner Voice of prayer that speaks in my own primordial darkness, that source of my own dawning illumination, whispers to me: He saw himself. In contrast to other stories of blindness healed by Jesus, where the newly sighted open their eyes and see the face of their Healer, this man first encounters Jesus as a voice and a touch, and is sent away to wash his eyes.
After the ripples in the pool subside, I see this man seeing his own reflection. For the first time. As the first thing he sees.
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He suggested I do the same with my own face, really cultivating the recognition that Christ sees my face as a beautiful revelation of God. This was not an easy practice for me. Frankly, years of bullying and abuse by peers during my adolescence has left me with chronic low self-esteem. While today I feel confident in my own skin and deeply loved, those ancient feelings of not-enoughness and adolescent self-consciousness still come knocking now and then.
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Gazing at my face in this way has been a powerful, prayerful aid to seeing myself as I really am: beloved of God. I know one thing, that though I was blind, now I see. But his gaze does not stop there. Because his gaze is undeterred by every distraction and menace placed in its path, he will gaze upon Jesus in worship, the only kind of gaze which sees Jesus as he really is.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. The words spoken, signs performed, and glory revealed by Jesus — in short, the whole of his personhood — are oriented toward the initiation of relationship with you and me. To believe in Jesus is to accept him, to identify with him, to follow him, to grow in discipleship This is not a theological position, an assent of the mind.
It is a life stance which could only be legitimate if Jesus is indeed who he claims to be, the one sent by the Father. You know that experience when the sunlight hits a clear windowpane in such a way that you can simultaneously see through it to the landscape beyond, as well as see your own reflection? I think of that experience as a sign.
Jesus is that clear windowpane. That light reflected in just the right way that I can perceive both visions at once is the gospel — and for me, the gospel of John in particular. The other gospels are sources of abundant Life for what they tell me about Jesus, especially the teachings by which I seek to pattern my life. John is that strange and glorious slant of light that shows me what can be told in no other way. As we read the signs in the mirror and through the window, we travel a path of increasing intimacy with Jesus and clearer knowledge of ourselves.
S , Keith has lived in the Boston area since For five years he was a committed member of The Crossing at St.
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He has worked as a high school theology and history teacher, a teacher and director of adult English classes for recent Chinese immigrants, and most recently as the parish, building, and financial administrator at Emmanuel Church, Boston. He has had a life-long passion for drawing and is an avid reader of ascetical theology, particularly fourteenth-century Middle English.
He loves being a monk and a follower of Jesus. I shall never experience my reflection in a window and the landscape beyond in the same way again. What a beautiful insight.
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Thank you, Brother Keith. What a wonderful meditation! I also love the Gospel of John for reasons you mention. However, it would be a huge punishment for me to have to focus on my own image as the image of Christ. I would not be able to do it. Thank you Br. For opening up your heart and mind to us in such a personal way. Your words were very confirming of these new ways and I think there are times when we need that confirmation and the feeling of a shared journey.
Margaret Dungan. Hi Brother Keith, I just read your article with my 7th grade divinity class. We have been reading the Fourth Gospel all school year.
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They engaged meaningfully with your reflections. They like your writing and the palpable images you use to express your ideas. I would encourage you to use this video series in personal study or in a study group. Behold Your God is a week study for churches, small groups, families or individuals containing 12 sessions that are reinforced by a week daily workbook. The teaching sessions are led by Dr. The video portions were filmed on location in the United States and the United Kingdom at key historical sites associated with the lives of the men and women we are considering.
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