Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus by William Blake: Common Domain
They came to Jericho. As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Being blind and not knowing it would be quite a different experience than having known vision only to lose it. The latter experience is one of felt deprivation, the former is an impoverished state, yes, but not full of the sadness of having lost the gift of vision knowing it all the while. St. Augustine relates to us in his commentary on the story of blind Bartimaeus that Bartimaeus lost his vision. He was not born blind, rather his eyes went dark. He lost the light. More importantly, however, is the fact that he knew where to go in order to ask for the return of the light.
Prayer requires that we know that we have lost the light, or at least that there is light to be gained. Prayer seeks to receive from God as did Bartimaeus. It was precisely this relationship with God that opens up through the prayer of faith that I desired to describe to our freshmen on their Desert Day this week. If I can teach the students to pray in a more intentional, coherent, and faithful way, then I have succeeded as their chaplain.
Learning to pray is the most important thing we can learn to do. It is directly related to our ability to receive from God his greatest gift, himself. We are all beggars before God, deprived to the light of the vision of God. We are all Bartimaeus. What can we learn about prayer from Bartimaeus? The recounting of the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus nicely illustrates the four basic steps that outline the contours of personal relational prayer: Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond
Acknowledge: The beginning of the story for Bartimaeus begins with his own acknowledgement of his blindness. He thinks about his situation and his great poverty. He feels a sadness because of the loss of the light from his eyes and his destitute state. Perhaps, Bartimaeus feels excitement at the chance that Jesus might be passing by. He desires to receive the grace of vision from Jesus. These three things, our thoughts, feelings, and desires are the "stuff" of relational prayer; we must acknowledge the reality of what happens in our minds and hearts if we can hope to receive the gift of happiness.
Relate: "He began to shout out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'" Bartimaeus, knowing Jesus to be within earshot, cries out to him. He relates his thoughts, feelings, and desires to Jesus in an intentional way. Our prayer needs to intentionally relate what is going on in our lives to Jesus. It is not that Jesus doesn't know what we are thinking, feeling, and desiring, but he wants us to hand over our lives to him. We will not learn to trust, love and depend upon him until we know that he is the one who gives every good gift. St. Faustian's Divine Mercy image expresses the fundamental desire of Jesus for our prayer...Jesus, I trust in you! In the spiritual physics of prayer, relating our lives to God in an intentional way is the precursor to receiving from God whatever good he desires for us.
St. Teresa of Avila says something important to note here. She said that the "all difficulties in prayer have just one cause: praying as though God were not there." I think the this is fundamentally correct. So often we approach prayer with a lack of confidence in the basic truth for prayer to be prayer, namely, that God exists and is on the other end of the line, so to speak. Relating to God the stuff of our lives will necessarily make our faith grow because we will daily, hourly, or even more often believe that God exists and loves us.
Receive: The interior movement of relating to God our thoughts, feelings, and desires disposes us to receive from God. Let us look to Mary, the God-Bearer, for a moment in order to realize how very important is our ability to receive into our being that which comes from God. "Mary has carried the Word long before conceiving him and has learned the self-giving of him whose whole being is consent to the Father. She has been fashioned by the Spirit and sees without realizing it that the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be "able to receive" God (Corbon, 1988, p. 21). What a paradox! The best and most fruitful thing we can do is receive. The Holy Trinity is at every moment addressing our hearts as the Word did in the aforementioned gospel passage, "What do you want me to do for you?" God, with bated breath so to speak, seeks permission to gift us with precisely what we need.
Respond: The response of Bartimaeus to the gift of restored vision is normative for for the one who receives from God in prayer: "Immediately...he followed him on the way." Being with Jesus on the way is the joy of the Christian life. Prayer leads to discipleship, friendship, camaraderie, and intimacy with Jesus. Once we begin to live within the contours of relational prayer, acknowledging, relating, and receiving from our Lord the gift of himself we will find that the very response to his grace is to remain in him, following him on the way toward the heavenly Jerusalem.