Not long before we left New Brunswick, I was scanning through the book sale display at Fredericton Public Library (one of the places I miss most from NB) and my eyes happened upon a couple of Jackson Browne CDs. Since I was once a nearly exclusive devotee of 1960s rock and soul music, I had never really listened to Browne, and probably would have turned my nose up twenty years ago at such an example of either “soft rock” or “classic rock.” But as I’ve edged toward middle age, I like to think I’ve grown a little. Besides, for a dollar each, there wasn’t much to lose.
I left the two albums to sit with my music collection for a number of months without really paying them much attention. But lately I’ve given them some room in the rotation, and I’ve found Browne’s words especially to be quite rich. Nevertheless, though I’ve encountered such wonderful (and new to me) songs as “Fountain of Sorrow” and “Rock Me on the Water” I keep finding myself haunted by the words of the one song I knew and enjoyed long before I picked up the CDs, the 1972 classic “Doctor My Eyes.”
The song is the lament of a man who has watched the troubles of the world for years and is starting to wonder what it’s done to him. He has deliberately kept his eyes open to “the evil and the good,” but now wonders if it’s made him insensitive to sadness. The “doctor” to whom he’s addressing himself could be a therapist, but it could just as well be God, so the song comes across as a prayer as much as anything. The first chorus poses the problem: “Doctor, my eyes/Tell me what is wrong/Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?” By the end, he wonders with sadness whether the fact that he can’t really see much hope anymore is somehow “the prize/for having learned how not to cry.” A distressing thought: making sure we don’t turn away from reality with all its pain might lead us to become complacent and lose hope.
The recording itself, however, becomes an answer to this worry. The music reaches such heights that it’s hard to lose hope completely: a walking bass guitar figure moves steadily beneath insistent piano chords while the three-part harmonies (courtesy of David Crosby and Graham Nash, backing Browne) make that exclamation, “Doctor, my eyes!” really soar. The singer may worry that he’s no longer able to feel anything, but his voice says otherwise. As long as he can sing these words, he isn’t yet a lost cause.
Browne’s words hit home for many of us. We are bombarded with so many headlines and news stories that we may feel paralyzed. Is the answer not to pay attention to the sorry happenings of a weary world? Or is there a way to keep our eyes open and not to become numb to it all?
Over the past year or more, I’ve reflected a bit about what Jesus has to do with our sight. Are we able to see the world as it really is? And are we able to see anything like hope for a better day? These are key aspects of the gospel as we encounter it in the New Testament.
In John 3, a man named Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus and wonders aloud about what he should make of Jesus, having witnessed the miraculous signs that he has been doing. Jesus responds to him by suggesting that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” He goes on to say (v. 19) that although light has come into the world, we generally prefer to stay in the dark because that keeps our wrongs from being exposed. In other places in the gospels Jesus demonstrates to the disciples that to see correctly involves a miraculous work of God. In the hurry and distraction of the world it’s easy not to see the true meaning of Jesus, or to see how he answers the problems that we see all too clearly around us.
As the writer of the Gospel says, one of the things we’ll see once we’re out in the light is the wrong that we ourselves participate in. We’ll begin to see our part in both “the evil and the good,” when usually we tend to see only our own good. But as Jesus indicates with his promise that those who are born again will see the Kingdom, we will also see something more than our own actions. We will start to see what God is up to, his Kingdom work. The strange two-part healing of a blind man in Mark 8 (at a first contact with Jesus the man can see just blurry figures, while the second brings him full sight) keeps us cautious about our hopes of perfect sight. Sometimes our vision takes time to get better.
Being a follower of Jesus allows us to start seeing signs of hope. The resurrection of Jesus opens up new vistas of life and makes it possible for us to see death as something that will one day be overcome by the strength and plan of God. And because of God’s ultimate rule over the world, we don’t have to shield our eyes from painful things. The gospel isn’t make-believe, so we don’t have to protect ourselves from reality. But we pray for proper vision—a vision corrected by the gospel of Jesus. With that vision, we see ourselves, the world, and the Kingdom of God in true perspective and walk into a reality that will sometimes make us cry but which will also be the cause of great hope.