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This message is from June 4, 2000.

Scripture Reading:
Isaiah 9:2
Matthew 6:22-23

Routine Darkness

Once upon a time, at the very bottom of the world, there was a tremendous cave. It was far beneath the surface of the earth, beyond the reach of sunlight. On the surface of the earth, the sun would shine by day and the moon would shine by night. But within the cave, all was darkness.

Because the darkness was absolute, it was a world without vision. No one could see the rivulets of stone that hung down from above like strands of wet hair. No one could see the rocks that looked like heaping mounds of chocolate pudding, or the columns that looked like giant wedding cakes transmuted into stone. Because it was dark without interruption or compromise, no one could see anything at all.

Nevertheless, there were creatures who made the cave their home.

There were fish who swam in underground pools. In the darkness, the fish had no use for eyesight, and so they were entirely blind. They had no use for pigmentation, and so they were entirely white. But the fish were happy to live in the cave.

There were also crickets and spiders and newts. Most amazing of all, there were even people who lived in that cave. They were people like us. They had two ears and two arms and two eyes. But in that subterranean world, the people never saw anything. Their eyes were robbed of sight by the unflinching darkness.

Of course, the cave dwellers knew about eyes. Even in the darkness, they could reach up and explore the contours of their faces. They could glide their fingertips over their eyelashes. They could rub their eyeballs until stars appeared. They had felt the sting of tears.

The cave dwellers knew about eyes. They could recognize human anatomy for what it was. But in that dark, dark world, none of them had ever seen a thing.

For this reason, the underground people generally considered their eyes to be a nuisance. Unlike the sturdy and reliable forehead, eyes are especially vulnerable to pain. Eyes are easily damaged. The slightest collision can cause them terrible pain. And so, most cave dwellers protected themselves by wearing a blindfold wherever they went.

They wore blindfolds like you and I wear shoes. To them. it was simply a matter of common sense.

* * *

At this point, I need to tell you something else about cave dweller society. Among the cave dwellers, every activity you can imagine -- from preparing breakfast in the morning to climbing into bed at night -- was carefully governed by a rigid routine.

The reason for this should be obvious.

Simply consider how much time you spend looking for stuff. In the past week, I've spent time looking for my sunglasses, looking for my car keys, looking for my flashlight, looking for the scissors, etc. I've even spent time looking for the magazine I was just reading a few minutes ago. Although this is annoying, my ability to search for lost stuff is greatly enhanced by my ability to glance around the room.

Because of the pervasive darkness, the underground people had to search for lost items by sense of touch alone! Each search was a painstaking process that could last for weeks at a time.

In order to keep track of their clothing, tools and food, everything had to be handled according to a carefully prescribed routine. Items were removed from storage, used carefully and then quickly returned to their place of storage. Every item had to be held in the proper way to minimize its chance of been dropped or misplaced.

Eventually, these codes of conduct were elevated to the status of religion. Failure to do every task according to the prescribed routine was more than a faux pas. It was more than a crime. Failure to follow each routine to the letter was considered a sin.

* * *

And then, one day, the gift of light was given to the cave dwellers.

Some of the young people at the margins of society spoke of a wise and gentle stranger who offered them the gift of light. Even through their blindfold -- even through their closed and untested eyes -- the young people could see its warm radiance.

This ability to see was a sensation they had never experienced before. Although the sensation was dim, it was like opening a doorway to a whole new universe. It hinted at possibilities they could only imagine.

"What is it?" they had cried. "What is happening?"

The stranger had laughed with shared joy and excitement. "You're seeing!" he said.

"But what is it?" they repeated. "What does it mean to see?"

"It's like feeling with your eyes," the stranger answered. "It's a way of being in the world."

The cave dwellers were suspicious of the light. Many of them added an extra layer of fabric to their blindfolds in order to protect their eyes from its glare. Others were more curious and eager to unlock its mysteries.

Finally, some of the young people dared one another to remove their blindfolds. Some of the others came close enough to listen. A few predicted dire consequences for this reckless behavior. But the young people held the long strips of fabric in their anxious fingers. Tracing a circle around their heads, they unwound the blindfold.

For them, it was like Lazarus slipping out of his grave clothes. In a few moments, they stood exposed to the light. They squinted at the unfamiliar glare. Water rushed from their eyes to ease the sting of the light.

And then, they could see. They saw rivulets of stone hanging down from above like strands of wet hair. They saw rocks that looked like heaping mounds of chocolate pudding. They saw columns that looked like giant wedding cakes transmuted into stone. They saw china white fishes swimming in the clear water. For the first time, they saw one another.

With the light in their midst, they turned back the darkness and saw everything as it was.

* * *

Some people removed the bandages from their eyes. Because the first glimmer of the light revealed it for what it was, some people stripped away the veil.

Others choose not to expose themselves to the stinging, piercing light. They saw no reason to endure the discomfort.

The story might have ended there, with each side glad about its choice and tolerant of the others. It might have ended there, but it did not. Because the people who could see started to neglect the rituals of everyday life. The people who could see started to obey what their eyes told them rather than what the tradition had taught.

And that was more than some could bear.

* * *

Finally, those who embraced the light were forced into exile. Many of them still think of themselves as part of the underground.

As for those who preferred the darkness, perhaps they are still down there in the cavern -- following the dictates of a rigid routine.

* * *

Jesus said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness."

* * *

Jesus also said, "Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The person who walks in the dark does not know where he or she is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons and daughters of light."