Once, he was confronted by two persistent blind men. Jesus asked if they believed he could heal them. The moment they said “Aye!” he declared them well, based on their faith (Mt. 9:27-29). (With an added touch of humor, Jesus commanded them, “See that no one knows about this.”) There are many other instances in the Gospels of physical eyes healed by Jesus.
Jesus said ‘yes’ to physical eyes. But, he was also concerned with spiritual eyes.
In Matthew 6:22-23 (TNIV), Jesus is quoted:
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
I suppose one could argue that Jesus is talking here about physical eyes. Here is an example where literal interpretations fail miserably. Jesus is talking about the light of goodness. The light of God. Of course, he’s using the metaphor of physical light rays, entering our cornea, continuing on through our pupil and iris (the eye’s “aperture”), and focused by the muscular lens of the eye, through the vitreous gel of the eye-ball, onto the retinal wall at the back of the eye. But, what happens next? Scientists remain baffled when it comes to exactly how our brains convert reflected physical light through healthy eyes into mental images that are not only viewed in real-time, but are often stored nearly as vividly in our memory cache.
What does Jesus mean, “If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”?
This saying of Jesus follows a significant passage on prayer and fasting in the text. Could there be a connection between what we see – both physically and spiritually – and how we pray?
The great religions of Eastern Asia maintain a strong connection between sight and prayer. For the Hindu, the greatest act of worship one can perform is darśan (“seeing”). To see the crafted statue of Ganeśa (or of another one of thousands of gods) – and to ‘be seen’ by the god, through the eyes painted on stone, bronze, or wood – is an indispensable act of devotion and prayer. Generally speaking, in Buddhism (a religion birthed out of Hinduism), a similar practice of seeing and being seen by god is engaged.
In Christianity, we find some similarity between the Hindu practice of darśan and the Eastern Orthodox practice of icon veneration. In reference to Orthodox prayer, Henri Nouwen has said that icons “offer access, through the gate of the visible, to the mystery of the invisible.” (Nouwen, Behold the Beauty of the Lord, 14)
While it may be uncomfortable for those of us in the Protestant realm to pray and worship with images of god – even Orthodox icons – our current age, profuse with images, is slowly warming us to the idea that what we see must play a larger role in who and how we worship. In this idea of visio divina - that pictures can enhance and deepen our experience of read scripture – we find a more humanly holistic approach. Ears and eyes do not function solo but in concert.
Is it possible that the physical light, bounding to and fro, bouncing from painting and sculpture and photograph and in through the “windows” of our bodies, is easily converted by the Spirit into spiritual light? The kind of light that not only enlightens the retina, but also the human spirit? Perhaps this is one of the connections Jesus was making.
Tell me again why we pray with our eyes closed?