St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | October 25, 2015
We gather as a mission church who takes her name from the Apostle Paul. One component of how we honor our namesake is to wrestle with this concept of his:
“We walk by Faith and not by Sight.”
My reflections this morning are born of my give and take with the reading today from the Gospel of Mark. Our lives offer us many opportunities to sit where Bartimaeus sat, to wear his worn cloak, to feel his sweaty shame, to hear the utter chaos which surrounds him and us, and to beg, to beg on our scraped knees for some type of connection, some modicum of vision which connects us to a reality outside of our own doubt and shame. My vision becomes clearer when I realize that your doubt is my doubt, and my shame is your shame. By the time we grow into adulthood, we should all understand that far more connects us than separates us. Our lives should be about finding our particular gift, and then doing the best we can to give it away.
This morning I offer you the story of a man and a mouse. “So, are you a man or a mouse,” the father asks the son. Personally, I wish my dad was still living so I could tell him I would like grow up to be both. In each of these stories, the concept of being blind is driving the action. Here we go.
John Newton was born in 1725 to a British Naval Captain father and lived until he was 77. At the age of 11 he started crossing the Atlantic by his father’s side, with cargos of slaves bound for the new world. By the time he is 18, he had crossed the great divide a dozen times. As an adult he becomes a first mate of a slave ship himself, yet his conscious leads him to being tried for mutiny, where he is stripped to the waist in front of his 350 men and whipped with 96 lashings.
Following this humiliation he was demoted to the lowest rank possible and he contemplates murdering the Captain and committing suicide. Yet his addiction to the sea and the slave trade continues. He does not get on with his next crew either, and he was sold into slavery and abused himself in the Ivory Coast of Africa.
He is rescued at the age of 23 and in the year 1748 on his return voyage home he is knocked wide awake in the middle of the night by his ship’s hull being half full of ocean water in the middle of a storm off the coast of Ireland. Newton calls out to God, and upon reflection as he becomes a grown man, realized that this moment was his initial convergence experience. But yet, upon a safe arrival, he again returns to the slave trade. He rises up the ranks to Captain, making three more middle crossings with hundreds of slaves in belly of his ship going west, and a hull full of sugar and rice coming back east. Only at 35 years of age does the seduction of these passages cease. Was it his sympathy for the plight of the slaves? Was it his subconscious guilt meeting him at the end of the day? Was it him coming to terms with the purpose of his life? He enters Divinity School and at 54, in the calm of his bedroom upstairs, these words come to him through the filter of his life experience:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
Writing at 63, with 12 more years to live, John Newton admitted his guilt of working in the slave trade was a “humiliating reflection” for him and he apologized for a, “confession which comes much too late.” Perhaps he had been in collusion with many systemic wrongs and been seduced, and blinded by his power like we all are, yet we would all agree that these verses, sung through many tragedies, have brought much hope and much light to many, in times of personal and collective crisis and unrest. There is no time clock clicking as we move from being blind to having sight. We get there when we are ready to see.
This is a Lakota Sioux story told by the Shaman,(part priest, part artist, and part magician) to all the boys and girls going through puberty in the tribe. It is a story of giving away in order to receive.
1. Once there was a mouse, a busy mouse who kept hearing a roaring in his ears. The other mice thought he was crazy. They thought he was foolish. He goes in search of the roaring. He finds a frog, the keeper of the river, who tells him that what he hears is something called a river. The frog asks the mouse if he wants some of the medicine power of the river. Frog tells him to jump as high as he is able. The mouse jumps as high as he can and sees the sacred mountains, and then falls into the river. The frog says he has a new name, “Jumping Mouse.”
2. Soaking wet, he goes back to his mice friends and they think, since it has not been raining, that an animal tried to eat him and spit him out. He must be poison. They shun him and he now wanders around with no friends at all.
3. Jumping mouse asks the advice of an elder mouse. The wise mouse says yes there is such a thing as a river, but the sacred mountains are just an illusion. Jumping mouse cannot forget his sacred vision of the mountains. The elder mouse tells him that the eagles will eat him if he tries to cross the prairie. “You are a foolish little mouse,” the elder says.
4. Jumping mouse scurries to the edge of where the mice lived and he hears a heavy labored breathing in a stand of sagebrush. He finds himself next to a great buffalo, a great creature near the end of his life. The buffalo looks at Jumping mouse and says, “I am sick and I am dying and my medicine tells me nothing can cure me but the eye of a mouse.” Jumping Mouse was shocked. "One of my tiny eyes!" he thought. He went back to where the buffalo lay and spoke. "I am a Mouse." And you, my Brother, are a Great Being. I cannot let you die. I have two eyes, so you may have one of them." The minute he said it, Jumping Mouse's eye flew out of his head and the buffalo was made whole.
5. "Thank you, my little brother," said the buffalo. "I know of your Quest for the Sacred Mountains and of your visit to the river. You have given me life so that I may now give to more people. I am the guide to the Sacred Mountains. You can run under my belly and the eagles will never see you. All they will see is a buffalo crossing the prairie. At the end of their journey jumping mouse arrives safely, but tells the buffalo that he was so afraid that he was going to step on him the entire journey. The buffalo says there was no need to worry because his way of running is the sun dance way. “Jumping mouse, you were never in any danger.”
6. Now Jumping Mouse finds himself at the foot of the mountains, with one eye and little hope of reaching the summit. He comes across an elderly gray wolf, who through the ravages of old age and Alzheimer’s has forgotten who he is. Jumping mouse is so saddened by this great wolf forgetting his intellect and his majesty. He sits and talks with the wolf, reminding him over and over as to who he is. Praying quietly, Jumping Mouse understands what he is being called to do because his brother wolf is such a great being. He goes up to the wolf and says, I know what will cure you, the eye of a mouse. And as soon as he says it, his other eye flies out of his head and the wolf is made whole with all of his memory intact.
7.Tears fell down the cheeks of the wolf, but his little brother Jumping Mouse could not see them, for now he was blind. I am the guide into the Sacred Mountains. I know of your journey Jumping Mouse and I will take you there. The wolf guided him through the pines to the medicine lake, where Jumping Mouse drank, while the Wolf described the beauty to him.
8. I must leave you here," said Wolf, "For I must return so that I may guide others, but I will remain with you as long as you like." Thank you, my brother," said Jumping Mouse. "But although I am frightened to be alone, I know you must go so that you may show others the way to this place."
9. Jumping Mouse sat there trembling in fear. It was no use running, for he was blind, but he knew an eagle would find him. He felt a shadow on his back and heard the sound that eagles make. He braced himself for the shock. And the eagle hit! Jumping Mouse went to sleep. Then he woke up. The surprise of being alive was great, but now he could see! Everything was blurry, but the colors were beautiful. "I can see! I can see!" said Jumping Mouse over again and again.
11. "Hello, Brother," a voice said. "Do you want some Medicine?" Yes! Yes! Said Jumping Mouse. "Then crouch down as low as you can," the voice said, "and jump as high as you can." Jumping Mouse did as he was instructed. He crouched as low as he could and jumped! The wind caught him and carried him higher."
12. Jumping Mouse heard a voice saying, "Hang on to the wind and trust!" Jumping Mouse did. He closed his eyes and hung on to the wind and it carried him. Jumping Mouse Opened his eyes and they were clear, and the higher he went the clearer they became. Jumping Mouse saw his old friend frog on a lily pad on the Beautiful Medicine Lake. "You have a New Name," called the Frog. From now on we will call you, "Eagle.”
In these two stories, in these two vastly different cultures, we see God pointing us forward in four paths of Justice, Equity, Mercy, and Service. We need to listen. We need to study what God asks of us as we each walk the path of our life. At different times during our day we are blinded to certain truths, while we see other issues with crystal clarity. What is God asking us to take another look at? What are we blinded to - or blinded by? And how might we choose a different path, if we saw, if we really saw, in a different manner?
"So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well."