Learning to See: Lent Week 4

During this Fourth Week of Lent, I am confronted once again with the story of The Man Born Blind in John’s gospel. Blind from birth, Jesus anoints this man’s eyes with a saliva-mud formula, an instant cure. Word gets back to the religious authorities who immediately interrogate everyone about how this happened but no one can explain it, even the blind man himself who simply says, “I once was blind but now I see.” Don’t you wonder what happened to this unamed man after all the hoopla died down? Did he become a disciple? What was it like for him to have both his physical and spiritual eyes open? I like to think he was changed for good but knowing human nature, I wonder.

Spiritual blindness is an ongoing problem for us. This is obvious when we simply listen to the news media, pay attention to the political drama, or experience the after-effects of the pandemic. The irony is, we are ego-centric and thus do not readily see our own blind spots. Most of the time, we miss critical turning points until other people, continual suffering, or crisis open our eyes to our complicity. Even then, why we do the things we do is easily rationalized.

During this time of Lenten scrutiny, I challenge myself and those I guide to try to identify spiritual blindspots. “But if I am blind to them, how can I name them?” is a sincere and important question many seekers ask. Not your fault! Learning to see the world from God’s vantage point is not often taught in a very practical way by priests, teachers, and theologians. If you are new to this, take heart, there is a way. According to a book and podcast by Brian MacLaren,* we have to re-learn how to see and this journey begins by identifying human biases. And there are many. I will name five and then hope you will read the rest of the book and/or listen to the podcast episodes. Think of 5 “C” words: confirmation (not the sacrament), complexity, community, complementarity, and contact.

Confirmation bias happens when I welcome information that confirms what I already think and resist information that disturbs or contradicts my view. If I have been convinced, for example, that vaccinating for Covid is the best possible cure for everyone, then any information that confirms my viewpoint is welcomed but when presented with expert testimony that questions or doubts my opinion, I will quickly reject the position as false, sometimes without any consideration.

Complexity bias happens because the human brain prefers a simple lie to complex truth. “It’s more complex!” I often hear myself saying when my grandchildren make general statements like “All religion is evil,” or “All politicians are crooks.” We like to boil every situation down to the least common denominator so we do not have to grapple with the confounding particularities of a moral problem.

Community bias makes it hard to see somthing your group doesn’t want you to see. No one likes to be “the cheese standing alone” in the midst of people you love or call family. Easier to go along with the group than going against it. We live with moral loneliness all the time and that’s not a comfortable place to be.

Complementarity bias happens regularly: if people are nice to you, you’ll be open to what they see and have to say. If they aren’t nice to you, you won’t. I know you get the idea because this bias begins in kindergarten.

Contact bias is easier to recognize–if you lack contact with someone, you won’t see what they see. This is the basis of most prejudicial bahavior. If we never bother to get to know the Muslim family down the street, we have no idea what they have experienced, what they do or think.

No one has 20/20 spiritual vision, not even the most holy among us. Yet, this is no excuse not to clean our lenses, or agree to have a spiritual cataract removed with grace, the laser of the soul. I personally do not like living with my biases, of which there are many, but am willing to be anointed with the healing serum of Christ. I wish it would be an instant cure, as in the case of Man Born Blind. I can only hope the the Divine Physician gives me more patience with others. In any case, I will continue to lean into the deeper meaning when I loudly sing: “I once was blind but now I see.”

*Brian MacLaren’s Podcast: https://cac.org/podcast/learning-how-to-see/page/2/

One thought on “Learning to See: Lent Week 4”

  1. I like your concise descriptions of the five “C’s”- Brian MacLaren has good insights and wisdom.
    The story of the man born blind is a constant reminder, thank you for reminding me again, of the blinders or unseen things I miss in my ordinary daily life. I will take a look at my own biases and reflect…..


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