This has been a strange week – to me, it felt downright surreal. Since the order of the county of San Francisco and the other counties in the Bay Area to shelter in place went into effect at midnight last Tuesday, life has changed. Hardly anyone is outside anymore, streets and freeways are empty, public transportation as well. Businesses are closed, and a lot of events – like worship services – and appointments have been canceled.
And this is good – some think these measures to keep the public safe from the Coronavirus are overblown, but we just have to look to Europe, and especially Italy, right now to see how hospitals, doctors, nurses are overwhelmed as they try to take care of the most severe cases of COVID-19. And, as we learn as we turn on the TV, health care providers all over this country are lacking basic equipment to conduct tests and treat patients. We are not in good shape to deal with a major epidemic in this country that is so advanced in many ways – that’s why we have to take preventive measures.
Now there are a lot of annoying and maybe even scary things going on right now. But I also have been surprised: surprised by the solidarity and neighborly love people show right now. It seems to me that this time of crisis, this time we somehow have to weather together, brings out the best in many people.
I’m on Facebook a lot, and I can’t tell you how many folks there have offered different things: from reading bedtime stories to offering online classes for students of all ages to giving free concerts to very concrete offers of help to go shopping for elderly members in the community. People have been searching their hearts and are asking: how can I help? How can I uplift the community right now?
I called many of you this past week, just to check in, and more than once I heard that there were neighbors people maybe didn’t know too well, or maybe even a complete stranger, offering help. And I felt encouraged; apparently, this world is not as selfish as we may have thought.
In a weird and good way, it seems to me that the eyes of many have been opened during this time of crisis. Opened to the need of the neighbor, known and unknown. It seems to me that many among us, and I include myself, are looking up, taking off their ‘Scheuklappen’, their blinders, which with they walk through life and usually go about their business, and actually take notice of what’s going on beyond their immediate range of vision. How often are we just curved into ourselves and our lives and don’t really pay attention to what’s going on around us?
I think we are developing a special 20-20 vision, a vision for the year 2020 that is broader and wider than the vision we had previously.
And it’s not only that are eyes are open more widely to the need of our neighbors, the community at large: we are seeing other things much more clearly as well. For example, that this country could do much better in regards to production of crucial tests and even the most basic medical equipment. That we need better provisions and safety nets for many people working minimum wage jobs. That maybe some sort of healthcare for all wouldn’t be such a bad idea, especially in times of an epidemic. We see – we can’t close our eyes to the things that need improvement.
But there’s another kind of 2020 vision that’s now being sharpened: people realize what wonderful things they have been given. Freedom to go and travel anywhere they want, access to anything our bodies need and our hearts desire, relationships they cherish, community, touch. How often do we take all these things for granted and don’t really see them? Well, now we do.
We see God’s creation rebounding, like dolphins swimming in the Canale Grande in Venice. We see the world, we see our lives with different eyes right now. Our eyes are being opened to many things we usually tend ignore or don’t know about or take for granted. And I hope and pray we won’t lose this 2020 vision once everything goes back to normal.
A lot could be said about today’s gospel story of Jesus healing the blind man. After all, this story is a whopping 41 verses long and, in typical John fashion, is very dense and complex. But what strikes me about this story as we are going through the current situation is that we learn about different kinds of blindness: the very real physical inability to see – and the more figurative blindness that probably all human beings suffer from to some degree. We all have our blind spots, like the Pharisees in the story. Sometimes things are crystal clear, and yet something – our culture, our privilege, our belief system, our opinions, our feelings – keeps us from seeing things as they are. And that may be part of what we call ‘sin’ – Luther famously said that sin causes us to be curved into ourselves, and what else does it mean but that our view of the world is extremely limited, in fact, we tend to stare at our own navel?
Christ came to lift us up, open our horizons, show us the vision of the kingdom of God in which we as siblings in God take care of each other – love each other, imitating God who loves us more than we deserve and more than we can imagine.
In our line of vision is the ultimate sign of God’s love for the world: the cross. But the vision extends way beyond that: the empty tomb. There is new life. There is a new beginning. I find this extremely comforting in times like these.
My prayer is that, in times like these, we do not lose this 20-20 vision. That we continue to let ourselves be uplifted by God’s grace and love, that we continue to look up and around, and truly see.
Picture by Vanessa Bumbeers on unsplash.com
This post is also available in: German