It was late one night when a blind man set out for home following a friend’s dinner party. He asked his friend, “May I borrow a flashlight as I walk home?” The friend laughed out loud, and asked in return,“Why would you ever need a flashlight?
The blind man, knowing he had to negotiate unlit, sometimes busy sidewalks, answered, “It’s not for me, my friend. It is to keep other travelers from stumbling or running over me in the dark.” Now understanding, his friend happily gave the blind man a flashlight.
Off he went, and after he had walked some distance, sure enough, he was struck by a man riding a bicycle. The cyclist quickly assisted the blind man, apologizing profusely. The blind man was angry, and as he got to his feet, shaking the flashlight at the cyclist, he asked, “Why can’t you see the light!” To which the cyclist answered, “Why don’t you change your batteries?”
Few examples are more apropos to our current society than the story above. One wanders about, blind as the proverbial bat, thinking that he shines the light of the world for all to see. In reality, he has no luster whatsoever, unable to see and unable to help others see, becoming more of a hindrance than a help. And when someone inevitable stumbles over him in the dark, he reacts with offense and annoyance.
The truth is, we are all in the dark to some degree. We struggle to see, to know, or to understand. Like occupants of Plato’s cave, we only see shadows; we only hear echoes. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “We see through a glass darkly,” hardly aware of our own steps much less others.
This is why “light” is one of the more common metaphors across all religious traditions. The Buddha is “the enlightened one.” The Hebrew Scriptures begin with the iconic phrase, “Let there be light!” In Islam, Allah intends to bring people “from darkness towards light.” And in the New Testament Jesus speaks of being “the light of the world,” while Saint Peter reminds us that we “have been called out of darkness into marvelous light.”
It’s a metaphor that requires humility; for any knowledge, insight, or spiritual understanding that a person has ever received is a “gift from above, coming from the Father of lights.” It is a grace to “see,” and should produce grateful meekness, not arrogance.
One of my favorite prayers was written by Frederick Buechner, a spiritual giant. His brother, not a religious man, was dying of cancer, but he wanted in the end what we all want: A buttress against the darkness. Frederick wrote this simple prayer, and it was found at his brother’s bedside when he passed:
“Dear Lord, bring me through darkness into light. Bring me through pain into peace. Bring me through death into life. Be with me wherever I go, and with everyone I love.” To me, that sounds like the enlightenment we need.