Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Seeing & Knowing

March 22, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

In our current rapidly evolving landscape of responding to a pandemic, I have been reflecting on the opportunities we have, during this time of increased physical and social isolation, to do inner work that we sometimes neglect in the flurry of our typical social activity.



Arts & Architecture

The Art of Seeing Art™

Toledo Museum of Art

Article describing a six step process of seeing art on a deeper than surface level.

Consider how the man who had been blind in today’s gospel moved through these six steps.

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Where is our current necessary practice of social distancing leading you spiritually?


This week’s Proper is offered in thanksgiving for the life and ministry of The Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris. After my weekly reflection, you will find an additional reflection on the Consecration of Bishop Harris.

So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” from John 9:17

There is a knowing that only you have.

This is not a statement that comes from rugged individualism or an inflated sense of the individual. It is theological.

Much of what we say we know comes to us in the middle of our connected everyday lives. In conversations with friends, doing projects with coworkers, talking to people in the course of a day–at the pharmacy or with the waiter taking our order. This is our common knowing; we share it. In these days, there is essential shared knowledge about how to slow the spread of a pandemic. This type of knowledge is vital, essential to our collective survival, even. And I am grateful to those who are disseminating it with clarity.

And, there is another kind of knowing. One that is equally important, though in different ways. It often intersects with or undergirds our common knowledge. Sometimes we call it discernment. Or wisdom. While it may be given to us in community, its activation within us is a solitary event, a communion between only the Spirit of God and the individual in whom it is occurring.

When we must physically distance, as is the case presently during this pandemic, we can feel profoundly disoriented. We are built to be in community.

Taking away our usual patterns of experiencing community dislocates us from what we know. We experience a desire to return to the normalcy of human interaction. This is understandable; our social nature serves us well. Yet, paradoxically, it is by doing the solitary work of deepening our awareness of what lies within us that we can most effectively navigate this season.

It is in times like these that an ever present, yet usually hidden, invitation to us surfaces: Come back to yourself. Let yourself see what you know.

Today’s story of the blind mind reveals this invitation. The crowd clamors about the meaning of his healing. But they cannot agree. Someone asks him to speak—What do you say about Jesus? It was, after all, your eyes he opened. His own parents will not answer for him. Let him tell you. He is of age to speak for himself. In this moment, this man is alone. He is pulled away from everyone else, asked to reach within himself. To see what he knows just as he now sees the outer world.

He has experienced a change. He has reflected upon it, and he has come to a knowing—knowledge that resides in his body, his heart, and his head. It is a knowing that only he can have about his experience of Jesus.

And, from today's Old Testament reading:

And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” I Samuel 16:11b-12

In this text, the prophet Samuel has a similar type of knowing to the blind man in today's gospel reading. He is trying to find Israel's next king. He has asked Jesse for time with each of Jesse's sons, believing one of them is likely to be the next king. He has a brief encounter with each son. He sees them; he looks closely. It only takes a moment. When Samuel has seen all but the youngest, he asks Jesse if all his sons are present. Jesse responds there is still the youngest. Samuel tells him to send David to him. When David comes before Samuel, he knows he is the one. No person in the story but Samuel has this knowing. It was between Samuel and God.

In today’s arts and architecture lesson, the Toledo Museum of Art beckons its patrons into a deeper way of viewing art. The museum offers a process that involves connecting what one sees in a work of art with one's inner landscape of meaning making. While many people may see similar things in a piece of art, they will also inievitably have different experiences of that piece shaped by their particular inner lives.

We live at once in common and solitary realities. There are things we share and things we do not. Always. Our present practice of social distancing gives us occasion to reflect upon this dual nature of our experience that is always with us. And in that reflection, there is opportunity for us to deepen our capacity to see what we each know and to strengthen our agility in moving between the solitary and the common.

There is a knowing that only you have. A communion that is yours alone with God.

Perhaps, in these disorienting days, the invitation to return to this knowing will surface and beckon you back to your own wisdom, to the place where your eyes are opened.

Additional Offering

Reflecting on the Consecration of Bishop Barbara C. Harris:

The Moment I Will Never Forget

Early on a February morning in 1989, my husband Nathan and I boarded a bus in New Haven filled with seminarians and headed to Boston. We were among those who were blessed to witness history that day, the consecration of The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris. It was a day that stirred the deepest recesses of my soul. I wept through most of the liturgy.

The one time I laughed out loud, with all those around me, was during the examination, when +Barbara was asked the question, "Are you persuaded that God has called you to the office of bishop?” The question asks, essentially, “Are you here of your own volition, of sound mind, intending to do this thing?”

The answer, typically, has the meaning, “I am thus persuaded,” using the same word used in the examination–so– “I am so persuaded.” The answer is really just a formal way to say “yes.” Yes, I am persuaded that I’ve boarded the right plane—that I’m supposed to be here. I’m willing to proceed. It’s often passed over as a ho-hum moment, a necessary exchange as the liturgy heads toward the real juice, much like the declaration of consent early in the marriage liturgy. But this was not the case at the consecration of Barbara C. Harris.

In that one moment, the soon to be Bishop Harris, the first woman in the worldwide Anglican Communion to be made a bishop, told the world her joy over the doors she was flinging wide open, the ceilings she and the Holy Spirit were bursting through together for women to come for all generations beyond her.

“I am SO persuaded!” she exclaimed with resounding affirmation.

And across the room, audible joy. Laughter that comes when a weight has been lifted and you feel it for the first time.

I’ll remember my experience in that auditorium of that specific moment for the rest of my life. And I’ll give thanks for the fruit of Bishop Barbara Harris’ groundbreaking and courageous ministry every time I remember it.

Thank you, Bishop Barbara. You changed the church for us. You changed the world for us.

May you Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory.