Lenten retreat highlights from Kathy McGovern: Open my eyes, Lord!

Kathy McGovern is a beloved retreat leader, writer, biblical scholar, and spiritual director who recently offered a retreat for women and pilgrims from our parish.  These are the three main ideas of Kathy McGovern’s talk, “Open My Eyes, Lord” from dear friend and fellow pilgrim, Ann Zimmer.

1. Open your eyes to the ways scripture speaks about eyesight. It’s rarely about opened “eyes,” but opened (or closed) hearts to the new and radical things God is doing.

The people around the man born blind need the world to be the way they understand it. If you’re blind, you are being punished either for your sin or the sin of an ancestor. The Pharisees need to find a way that Jesus is an impostor, and they pounce on his sin of curing on the Sabbath. The cured man’s parents know a great “sign” has occurred, but they are terrified of being excluded from the synagogue (and the commercial benefits of being connected to Jews in a Jewish neighborhood) and so they put the responsibility of naming Jesus as the Savior onto their son.

Finally, Jesus indicts the Pharisees (about whom the story is really told) as the greatest sinners of all because they keep saying they see, and yet they are the most blind of all. In the story of the Fall, the serpent lures our first parents into learning that there is good and evil in the world, and immediately they assume that they are evil, that because they are naked they are “not enough.” The “sin” wasn’t so much a sin as a stern begging from a loving Creator that they not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden (where all the four rivers meet, and where all of our own fears and longing converge) because God wanted their innocent presence for eternity in the Garden. But once their “eyes were opened”–but we know they were seeing just fine before this happened!–they were filled with insecurity about their worthiness. If they are naked–exactly as God made them–they must cover themselves up because they are not enough for God unless they become something different from what God created.

Jesus finally settled the score with Satan–that ancient Liar–on the cross. With arms stretched in agony, his last words were “It is finished.” We can add, “It is enough. You are enough.” I suggested that someday on Ash Wednesday we would be marked with ashes and told, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. And you are enough.”

2. The second way of opening our eyes is to consider the times when, accidentally or through, say, a profanity-laced note on your car, you realize that your behavior in the world is ugly or selfish. Those moments in our lives when someone who loves us (or doesn’t) tells us how our behavior is badly “missing the mark” of who we want to be in the world are moments of great grace. Our eyes are finally open to the things about ourselves that everyone else has seen (and forgiven) a thousand times.

Once our eyes are finally opened, we are free to live a brand new life of graciousness. In the third section I used the story of Hagar in the desert. She is saved twice by God. The first time, she says, “I have seen the God who sees me.” She is the first person in scripture to give God a name—the God who sees me! I love, love, love that. It reminds me of one definition of prayer: gazing on God, who is gazing on you. So, in what ways has God seen our colds, our itchy ears, our unresolved angers, and healed them without our even realizing it? It’s like the story in Mark of the farmer who sows the seed. Afterwards, he sleeps, he gets up, he sleeps, he gets up. And one day he looks out the window and his field is filled with wheat!  How? He does not know. The slow work of God is always healing us, always sustaining us, always delighting us. But do we see it? Open my eyes, Lord!

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