I once followed the Jesuit Larry Gillick, a blind person, in the literal dark. Neither of us fell into a pit. So, was Jesus wrong?
Larry lost his sight before his tenth birthday, but as an adult he joined the Society of Jesus and became a marvelous spiritual director. On a retreat that he and I were helping to direct, we went on a walk. It was after dark, quite so, and I was as good as blind when we got far enough from the retreat house, with no neighborhood around us? So, the blind following the blind.
As we went, he upped the ante. He said to me, do you want to go on a trust walk?
Blindly (pun intended) I said, why, of course.
First he had me do the famous “fall backwards” that some of my readers will have done. I was to release control and tumble back into the arms of another person, in this case Larry. The only problem was that he could not see, and it was also too dark for me to make anything out.
I willed to fall back, and he caught me, and we were happy. I marveled at Larry’s conquering of his malady. All was good.
… except that there was a “next step.” Quietly he announced that he, a person supposedly unable to find his way, would lead the way. With my hand on his shoulder and a scarf around my eyes—to make certain that I would not cheat—we went forth. Could we avoid a pit?
I avoided it and so did he. It was indeed a walk of trust. Even though I anticipated that anything whatsoever could happen, it did not. I was relieved. Larry was so used to guiding people spiritually that was possibly not an act of trust on his part. For him, it did not mean walking blindly into the unknown, it meant going ahead with increasing confidence that we are accompanied by God, no matter what might come around the next dark bend in the road.
What was I myself supposed to learn? To trust recklessly with only sightless guidance? Larry Gillick has been my friend over the years and does not require any beatifying. But I do.
Well, maybe the point was that sightlessness is the only way to really see.
Jesus says in our Gospel that we have “wooden beams” in our eyes when we relate to others. Maybe we must close our eyes for a while in order to see around these. We should stop projecting on others our own blockages, and work on the much larger wooden beams in our own psyche instead. This seems to me a quite sound psychological insight.
Notice, this understanding does not imply that we should entirely give up relating to another person. Jesus is just saying that we need to clarify our own vision in order to help someone else. None of us will have perfect “vision,” but we should seek continually to clarify what we do see.
That night I did not have anything like perfect vision. But the steady, blind guidance that Larry Gillick gave me was an act of seeing unlike most others I have known. As you and I begin Lent this coming week, I guess my advice is that we all close our eyes for a while and be guided.