Speaking our needs to the heart of reality
From a Feb. 13 chapel presentation by Parker J. Palmer, with
As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude,
Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was
sitting by the roadside ... He began to cry out and say, Jesus,
Son of David, have mercy on me! And many rebuked him, telling
him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, Son of
David, have mercy on me! And Jesus stopped and said, Call
him.... And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came
to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, What do you want me to
do for you? And the blind man said to him, Master,
let me receive my sight. And Jesus said to him, Go
your way; your faith has made you well. And immediately
he received his sight and followed him on the way. Mark
Jesus, this strange and unusual and important man had come to
town and everybody is tracking after him on the road. The road
has a great flow of activity, which is so highly recommended in
our society. The road has destination and direction and intentionality
and thats what all of our lives are supposed to be, arent
Bartimaeus, sitting in the dust by the side of the road,
is the marginal person, out of the flow. Many of us know how it
feels to be floundering while the rest of the world flows by.
You feel lost, covered with dust, unable to see your own future.
But one advantage of marginality is that, being unable to see
externally the things of the world, those people can cultivate
a capacity to listen to the inner teacher the most important
teacher of all. I have to imagine that Bartimaeus had spent
years and years listening inwardly to what we Quakers call that
of God in every person, the seed of truth that always wants
to speak in the human soul.
I grew up in a church tradition that taught me that vocation is
about a calling that came from outside of me a voice calling
me to be something just beyond my reach. It took me a long time
to understand that a calling from God is a calling from a voice
deep within. Its not a calling to be something that Im
not, but to be more fully what and who I am, the gift God planted
on this earth with my birth.
Sometimes we have to be marginalized to find out what that gift
Bartimaeus had the inner vision to reach not just for Jesus,
recognizing who this man truly was, but for the heart of reality,
the heart of power and the heart of healing. It was Bartimaeus
who, among this great circus-like crowd, had the courage to cry
out for what he truly needed. Bartimaeus owned two great
gifts: absolute clarity about who Jesus is and absolute honesty
about what Bartimaeus needs.
Have you ever cried out, Have mercy on me! in any
time or place? Have you ever been so in the dust by the side of
the road that all you can speak is that true cry of the human
heart? Not to ask for the second or third thing you most need,
but the first thing mercy, understanding, compassion, love,
a sense of wholeness and of selfhood.
On those occasions when I have stumbled into clarity and honesty,
the response so often has been Shut up. We dont want
to hear it. Bartimaeus had a role the person
that allows me to feel a little less guilty about having what
I need because I can put a couple coins in his hand as I go by.
When he steps out of that role of the blind beggar it shakes my
life up and I tell him to shut up.
Some people are told to shut up and they do so. They sink into
silence and often into resentment and cynicism. But, for other
people like Bartimaeus, that very interference energizes
them to cry out all the more. This is a great moment in life,
when you know something so truly that the resistance to your hope,
your vision, your aspiration, your aim, actually becomes new energy.
If you speak your true need to the heart of reality, reality will
speak back to you. This Jesus in whom God is incarnate is going
to speak from the inside, resonant with your own heart. There
will be a connection and something new will start to happen.
Then, there is one of the most powerful lines in this or any other
story Throwing off his mantle, he sprang up and came
That mantle was his everything. It was not only his cloak, it
was his tent, it was the place that had pockets for coins and
scraps of bread. His mantle was his home, as well as his sign
of office it said, Im a beggar in this community.
Thats my role here. Im a student. Im a young
person. Im an administrator. Im a faculty member.
I wear this mantle.
It is too burdensome to move with honesty and clarity if you keep
wearing the mantle. To get to the heart of reality, power, healing,
you have to throw it off, and when you do so, Jesus looks you
in the eye and says, What do you want me to do for you?
I love this moment because I know what I would say Well,
first of all, can I get my mantle back, because Im not sure
this is going to work and Im feeling a little naked without
As soon as you try to slither aside from the question, that chance
is gone. Bartimaeus doesnt ask to get his mantle back.
He also doesnt say, Give me my sight, as if
it were something he didnt already have. He says, Let
me receive it, as if it were something in him that he hasnt
fully opened himself to yet. He knows that he has what he needs
and so do you and so do I.
This story says faith is a whole series of uppity actions. Faith
is the willingness to sit in a marginal place and listen and learn.
Faith is the willingness to crawl out from that marginal place
to the heart of something real about what you really need. Faith
is the capacity to throw off your mantle and lunge toward that
heart of reality, without covering your options every small step
of the way.
At the end of the tale, Bartimaeus is in a challenging world
which he doesnt know anything about. He doesnt know
how to survive there as he follows on the way. Its not a
nice thing to be a blind beggar in the dust, or to make our living
being angry, resentful or shutting down and trying to defy Gods
invitation to our lives, but at least we know the ropes. To ask
to be healed is an incredibly courageous thing because we will
be stretched and challenged to make our living not off our pathologies
but from our health.
And, ultimately, the call to vocation is precisely the call to
have the faith to allow the giftedness in ones life to be
resurrected into fullness of life and to follow on the way.