After my Big Dream years back when Jesus invited me to follow him, I woke with an undeniable feeling that my life would ever be the same…that the core of me was forever changed.
In the New Testament, when Jesus says to the blind man, would you like to see? He is not only asking the man if he wants to physically see, but if he wants to see spiritually. In essence, he says to the blind man, Do you want blindness to fall from your eyes and your heart?
For days after my dream, I felt like the Grinch whose closed heart cracked opened as wide as the sky. It was as if a raw, untouched love was ripped from a tightly bound sardine can in my heart – and it ached so bad – a shocking ache – like an infant bursting forth from the dark comfort of it’s mother’s womb, into a bright, penetrating, high voltage light.
We were living in the Santa Barbara around that time, a beautiful, small, quaint coastal California city known as a jewel of the Pacific. The town, nestled in the arms of the majestic Santa Ynez mountains, stretched to the central California beaches lined with palm trees. I’d always been seduced by Santa Barbara’s coastal beauty dotted with Spanish architecture, and its quaint main street with lively restaurants and a trolley leading to the beach. Yet, when I lived there, I soon noticed an oppressive, stark, contradiction between great wealth – those living in the hills on acres of land with gated driveways – and the poor — Mexican service workers living in small apartments crammed with aunts, uncles, cousins and children, several old used cars parked in front of shabby homes and on lawns. Most even felt alienated from the minority of white, middle class.
Days after my Big Dream, just before sunrise, I drove down lower State Street toward the beach for a morning run. The morning fog hanging low diffused a shadowed parade of homeless men and women roaming the otherwise empty sidewalks. It was like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. One pushed a shopping cart filled with stuffed plastic bags, another cried out jumbled stories of espionage. As I passed Macy’s and silent restaurants normally teeming with travelers and locals, for the first time the agonizing reality of the town’s contradictions pierced my heart, to the point I thought a stream of blood might burst forth from my chest. For years I walked down State Street barely noticing these people without homes dragging behind them hungry dogs and crumbled, white plastic garbage bags tied together, filled with who knows what, camouflaged by crowds of shoppers and tourists with shopping bags from Nordstroms and Anthropology — too busy sightseeing and licking ice cream cones to notice.
On that somber morning as I stood watching them wandering alone, each in their own separate worlds on their way to nowheresville, I wondered about their families, and what their childhood homes look liked. I wondered how their stories had taken them to Santa Barbara’s lovely main street, and when they lost their right minds.
These moments, when I first glimpsed the truth of suffering beyond my glamorous worldly preoccupations, were the dawning of my spiritual awakening.
This is Amazing Grace, and when it arrives, it sings the song of once being blind, and now seeing, shining spotlights of hope and compassion before us, humming melodies of possibility, blazing visions of a new world. Perhaps it’s like when grace visited Martin Luther King, Jr., the night before he died, the night he gave his mountaintop speech:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
I saw before me that day thousands of wealthy Santa Barbara residents coming down from their homes in the hills with food, clothing and blankets, helping the homeless find homes, sharing with their neighbors in need, loving one another regardless of the color of their skin, or money in Bank of America, sitting on blankets in the park sharing meals, an abundance of food before them – and joy such joy.
At that moment it occurred to me that the world could be a beautiful place if only we are healed of our blindness. If only we participated in the creation of heaven on earth.
The world, infused with agape love, generosity and compassion, is what Martin Luther King called the ‘beloved community‘, what Jesus meant when he said, the kingdom is at hand, and thy kingdom come they will be done on earth as it is in heaven, what great sages call compassionate action.
I just heard about a documentary about a pastor rescuing abandoned infants from garbage cans on the streets of Seoul in South Korea.
Although only for a brief moment, I glimpsed a blazing truth — that giving to poor, healing the broken, and loving our neighbor — is creating heaven on earth.
As I drove home today, Imagine came on the radio and I cried – I cried because hope pierced my heart:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.
I think now of my blindness — how just before my Big Dream, I was impressed by the homes of well-to do friends, wishing I could have the houses they had. But now, this matters not. My poverty came not in being unable to afford a multi-million dollar home, but in having been pre-occupied with seductions – seductions blinding me to the pain, loneliness and hunger seeping through the cracks in my own community, the people in need, mere ghosts.
The night visitor in my dream came with a sword, cutting through the shroud of denial, ripping blinders off my eyes, and pointing me in new directions. I’m still moving in that direction and grace is my guide, because often I still can’t see very well. But I hope — I hope for participating in the creation of a beloved community, being a contributor, helping build a promised land for someone, some child, some hurting person, some friend, some stranger. And I’m learning from those who can see better than me.
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