A little over a decade ago, when I was taking a novel-writing course through the Humber School for Writers, Timothy Findley, my mentor, would send notes on the pages I had written and often say, “You move from A to B without showing how you got there. If you’re going to tell a story well, you’ve got to let the reader travel with you.”
I thought about him this morning as we were reading John 9 together in church: the story of Jesus healing the blind man by putting mud on his eyes. All John says is Jesus told him to go to the Pool of Siloam (which means Sent) and wash his face and the man did so and came back seeing. What John didn’t tell us was how the man, while still blind, got from wherever he was when Jesus spat into the sand and smeared it on his face to the pool.
- Did he have help?
- Did he ask directions?
- How did he know he could trust Jesus?
- Didn’t people think he looked a little strange, or that even if he was blind he could have cleaned up a bit?
- How far was it?
- Was Jesus giving him a difficult task?
- How long was he gone?
- Did anyone see him wash his blindness away?
- How did he know the way home?
Answering any or all of those questions would make for some good storytelling, if not subtext, and yet John wasn’t that concerned about telling a good story about healing as he was using the miracle as a lived out parable about, as Ginger’s sermon title said it this morning, “Obstructed Views.” The best part of the story is about what the other people couldn’t see, no matter how many times it was waved in front of their faces, and why they couldn’t see it.
Last Thursday as I was getting ready for the dinner service, I heard a story on Day to Day about Dr. Michael Lill, a physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who specifically works providing “bloodless” bone marrow transplants to Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose beliefs will not allow them to have blood transfusions. One of the first questions the reporter asked him was, “Is it true you are not a believer yourself?”
“I’m on the atheistic end of agnosticism,” he answered.
Of course, she then asked why it would matter to him to help these folks who held a belief and a faith he did not.
He said something along the lines of, “I took an oath to be a healer. It’s up to me to use my creative knowledge to help heal people without demanding of them to give up what matters most, even if I don’t understand it.”
Talk about your unobstructed views. He probably heals them on the Sabbath just like Jesus did.
The reporter left out as many good details as John did:
- How did the doctor begin working with Jehovah’s Witnesses?
- How did he develop such regard for a faith he doesn’t hold?
- What kind of resistance did he get from those he works with?
- How hard was it for them to take him seriously and then to go through with the procedure?
The story she wanted to tell was more about a man who looked at what most people saw as an outlandish belief by an odd religious sect and saw people who needed help, even if helping them meant dealing with their self-imposed obstacles. Over twenty JW’s are alive today because of Dr. Lill’s vision. He didn’t ask them to change as much as he asked them to trust.
Something in the way he treats them, talks to them, responds to them gives them room to believe he is a guy who will do what he says. There must have been the same kind of tone in Jesus’ voice that would lead the blind beggar to give Jesus permission to smear the spit and dirt on his eyes, and something in the beggar beyond despair and desperation that allowed him to trust Jesus enough to go stumbling to the pool.
A friend wrote this week about a practice she has learned of a Daily Dangerous Prayer, which she described as “simply a verse of scripture that God puts in your path and says, ‘You need to dwell here.’” I hear the call to take up residence between the doctor and the beggar, the healer and the healee, both willing to see things in ways those around them are not.