In my early experience of distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday I found myself placing generous but dry amounts on many a forehead – only to watch a flaking fall of dust meandering down the noses and faces of bemused or amused penitential people. On asking for practical advice from one with more experience, I was told that making a little paste with water did the trick and soon some fine damp grey crosses could be witnessed ready to proclaim the beginning of Lent at least for the rest of that day.
It was the idea of making a paste that got me thinking about the significance of what we were doing. It reminded me of the story of the man born blind and the way that Jesus made a paste with spittle and dust ….. It was as if Jesus was making a kind of simple ointment – a healing paste that, on being washed away, left only clarity and the incredible gift of first time sight.
And in John’s Gospel there is a double miracle … not just a first but second opening of the eyes of that blind person.. It didn’t all happen at once. That person had to go through some courageous and challenging adjustments before being ready for the possibility of the deeper miracle: the opening of their inner eyes.
I wonder what the miracle of that second level of awareness was like. If receiving the gift of sight is something that would have stayed with a person for life, how much more the opening of their inner eyes. Maybe this is what we ask for at the beginning of Lent…that our eyes be opened to see the world with the clarity and beauty that God would wish us to share.
And, being opened, what might they see ? Perhaps the luminous quality that fills our world: a felt sense that God is integral and active in all we do and say and offer each other, the sheer beauty of God’s good spirit at work and play with us and in us…. delighting to be with us, filling our world with a sense of laughter and compassion, of lightness and dignity.
But… the gift of such a vision is also a hard one: it may also open us to see the world and ourselves as we really are: with all our injustices and self-centeredness, our hungers and our greeds. It may well show us beauty but also the broken face of a world that calls out for the compassion at the heart of Christ.
In this Lent, this greening and Spring time, let us encourage each other to hope for the gift of new sight . … to see clearly and with dignity how beautiful and precious everyone is in God’s own eyes.
- Tom McGuinness SJ