Sunday, April 3, 2011

Entering the "Waters of Siloam" as the Means to Encountering the Beauty of Life and Christ

Unlike the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Gospel of John is highly symbolic and metaphorical. The reason is that it represents a "faith vantage point" of Jesus and the Christ "event" thirty or forty years more mature than these three Gospels. Therefore, the Gospel reads not only like a narrative but also has the characteristics of a very refined theological and spiritual treatise of who Jesus is and what the life of faith entails. Today's Gospel story of the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41) is a story rich in symbolic and metaphorical meaning. It is much less a story about an historical event than it is a parable of encounter with the Christ and the progressive deepening of the life of faith.

When Jesus encounters the man born blind, he makes a salve of spittle and dirt, smears them gently over the man's eyes, and than instructs him to go and wash at the "pool of Siloam." Siloam means, "sent" and has the connotation not of being sent to a pool to wash but being "sent" to give witness to God and Christ through the Holy Spirit. The word is intimately connected to the word "disciple" which also means "to be sent." The man is not so much being sent to wash as he is being sent on a journey: a journey of a progressively deep faith encounter with Jesus the Christ. How does this faith encounter unfold and deepen? To begin with, after the man washes and regains his sight, he admits that Jesus healed him when asked by curious bystanders and the religious authorities (they want to know because this miracle took place on the Sabbath, and it is expressly forbidden to do any such work on this day). The religious authorities than call him to the carpet in order to examine the man with the hope of having something to indict Jesus with. When the man is pressed to give an account of who he thinks Jesus is, he responds "a prophet." Than, when the authorities ridicule and threaten him and push his back up against a wall, he suddenly goes into a very profound and powerful mode of witnessing to Jesus and defending him. At this the authorities cast him out of the community - he once again finds himself at the margins, the very same place that Jesus encountered him to begin with. However, this time, Jesus approaches him and helps the man to finally see him fully as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The man's journey of faith has come to a sort of "full-circle" consummation.

This story is less about a person (the man born blind) as it is a highly symbolic and metaphorical story of "personification." What's being "personified" is the journey of faith and encountering the true beauty and magnificence of life and Christ. The journey begins with the Lord reaching into our lives to intimately touch and heal. This than leads to being sent to "enter the waters of Siloam" or, the waters of a life of faith. The life of faith implies embracing the sum total of all that makes for a truly human life. It means sinking to the depths of human neediness, weakness, brokenness, sinfulness, capacity for goodness, glory
and relatedness with God, other, and self. To "enter the waters of Siloam" is a metaphor of embracing all of the above in a spirit of faith, hope, and love. At times, it means "being called to account" by others and by life to give witness to what we truly value and strive for. If we are "disciples" or, those who are "sent", this means that when "push comes to shove", we bear witness through word and deed that God, Christ, and Holy Spirit are Lord alone and the one we love above all. This of course, means we may very well be pushed to the margins. In other words, when we make a decision to live life at depth, to open ourselves to the true beauty of life, and to live lives of honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and openness, we will be misunderstood and perhaps even rejected; at times this might be by those who were nearest to us. However, in the face of such difficulty and even suffering, we live in the hope of knowing that the more deeply we enter the "waters of Siloam" the more we will encounter the beauty of life and the power of the Risen Lord.

In his book, "Beauty", John O' Donohue speaks along similar lines of how we encounter the depth of true beauty (meaning also, Christ) that comes through making deliberate and difficult decisions for a life of depth, a life of being drawn into the "Waters of Siloam": "The experience of beauty has for the most part a particular force. It envelops and overcomes us. Yet there are times when beauty reveals itself slowly. There are times when beauty is shy and hesitates until it can trust the worthiness of the beholder. Human culture seems to build its temples of meaning in the wrong places, in the garish marketplaces of transient fashion and public image. Beauty tends to avoid the siren call of the obvious. Away from the blatant center, it prefers the neglected margin. Beyond the traffic of voyeuristic seeing, beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place, or object. The hidden heart of beauty offers itself only when it is approached in a rhythm worthy of its trust and showing." Pat, TOR