Where the blind can see

Published 11:38 am Saturday, November 3, 2018

by Charles Qualls

The car commercial runs a few times every day right now. A young woman, who presumably wants to go hiking, is asking around, to see if the local map shows “The Peninsula Trail.” An older blind man says, “You won’t find that on a map. I’ll take you there.” As he gets his cane and begins to walk toward the door, she exchanges a hesitant glance toward the young man she is with.

As if to say, “This ought to be good.” Or, “This isn’t going to go well.”

The camera shot widens out for a time, showing them in the car now, going on an adventure. He tells her to take a left turn that he can’t even see. They stop off at a scenic overlook and their guide leads them to listen to the sounds of the whales. Eventually, they get out into the darkened woods and have arrived at their destination.

A blind man has shown them what they never would have seen for themselves.

It’s an oft-repeated idea that blind people can compensate for their lack of sight with enhanced hearing or other abilities. An article in Scientific American broke the news of a study first publicized in the Journal of Neuroscience.

It reminded us of the musical talents of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, both blinded at an early age, as examples of this loss sometimes conferring an advantage in other areas.

It is commonly assumed that the improvement in the remaining senses is a result of learned behavior; in the absence of vision, blind people pay attention to auditory cues and learn how to use them more efficiently. But there is mounting evidence that people missing one sense don’t just learn to use the others better.

The brain adapts to the loss by giving itself a makeover. If one sense is lost, the areas of the brain normally devoted to handling that sensory information do not go unused — they seem to get rewired and put to work processing other senses.

The hardships that sight-impaired people have to deal with are perplexing to one and a matter taken-in-stride to the next. Especially some who have never “seen” have learned to experience the world in their own ways and are not always to be pitied as sighted people might be inclined.

Still, the one thing we sighted people know is that in the conventional way we understand seeing — the blind simply cannot.

Of course, there’s more than one way in which to be blind, isn’t there. Much of human blindness has little to do at all with physical sight.

One person told the story of having grown up next door to his future wife. He had known her all his life. But, he’d only known her as the kid next door. He couldn’t see her in that way. Wouldn’t see her in that way, until one day when they began to realize how much they had in common now as young adults.

OK. Let’s admit the obvious. We all have blind-spots, so to speak. Someone can be perfectly intelligent and accomplished in so many ways, and absolutely inept in others.

In Mark 10: 46-52, the blind man Bartimaeus calls for Jesus’ attention. The church should notice that Christ’s followers hindered him from bothering Jesus, much as the disciples did when the children were kept from getting near Jesus. When we encounter “otherness,” the church tends to react by first putting up a blockade.

This is awkward when we think of it in that way. We should take heed of that and ask ourselves who all we may sometimes, in our blindness, hinder from coming into our presence and into the presence of Christ?

But, when he heard that it was Jesus he called out “Son of David … have mercy on me.”

This story bookends a group of stories that take place as Jesus is making His way toward the drama awaiting Him at Jerusalem. What’s holding up the other book-end? Way back in Mark 8, another blind man called out to Jesus at Bethsaida. Jesus healed him also. Suddenly, when we read the Scripture with some Biblical literacy — we get it!

These two could “see” spiritually better than those sighted people all around them who had healthy eyes. Because of the biases, assumptions and even their prejudices.

The note is sounded. Christ has brought near the kingdom of God — and it’s an upside-down one. An inverted one, compared with what everyone expected. A sometimes hidden kingdom compared with what everyone seems to able to see.

When we talk about God, we should do so humbly. Just in case we’re wrong. Because no one of us can see all there is to see.

CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.