the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956
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Speaking our needs to the heart of reality

From a Feb. 13 chapel presentation by Parker J. Palmer, with Ryan Miller

As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae’us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae’us, 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 10:46b-52 (RSV)

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 that’s what all of our lives are supposed to be, aren’t they?

Bartimae’us, 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 Bartimae’us 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. It’s not a calling to be something that I’m 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 is.

Bartimae’us 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 Bartimae’us who, among this great circus-like crowd, had the courage to cry out for what he truly needed. Bartimae’us owned two great gifts: absolute clarity about who Jesus is and absolute honesty about what Bartimae’us 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 don’t want to hear it.” Bartimae’us 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 Bartimae’us, 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 to Jesus.”

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, “I’m a beggar in this community. That’s my role here. I’m a student. I’m a young person. I’m an administrator. I’m 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 I’m not sure this is going to work and I’m feeling a little naked without it.”

As soon as you try to slither aside from the question, that chance is gone. Bartimae’us doesn’t ask to get his mantle back. He also doesn’t say, “Give me my sight,” as if it were something he didn’t already have. He says, ”Let me receive it,” as if it were something in him that he hasn’t 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, Bartimae’us is in a challenging world which he doesn’t know anything about. He doesn’t know how to survive there as he follows on the way. It’s 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 God’s 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 one’s life to be resurrected into fullness of life and to follow on the way.

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