Chapter 15: Flying Fuzz

 It has been a long time since I have posted anything.  A new baby granddaughter has a way of doing that.  But now that I am back, this is a continuation of my journal written along the pilgrimage of 2008 from D.C. to Pittsburgh while learning the gospel of John by heart.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008:      Cohill Station to Little Orleans

 It is exhilarating to be hiking the trail again after several weeks away. I have missed it.  Not that I wasn’t thrilled by our explorations on the northwest Pacific coast where creation seems dominated by the ocean and sky, and where majestic, mountainous islands are only brief interruptions to the flow of tides.  Along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, the land submits to powerful winds, gouging glaciers, and torrents from melting  snow.    Water and air perform their work on the earth: they flood ravines, carve rocks, and scrape massive spruce trees into the surf.

Here on the banks of the Potomac, a river I have grown to love, the water and sky are more humble.  The memory of the western sea’s vast volume fades.  In comparison, the slender channel of this eastern river borrows only modest space from the hillsides and bottom land.  The unlimited expanse of the Pacific coastal sky is gone.  Here the sky is tucked securely behind trees in full foliage.  I had grown accustomed to the swaying ship, but now I am back to standing on stable ground.  I recognize that the towpath looks different to me, partly because of where I have been and what I have seen, but partly because it has done its own changing while I was gone.  The bluebells are long faded and fallen.  In their place wild flocks of pink, white and lavender scatter along the shaded pathway.  The large full-grown leaves overhead have introduced a new rustling sound.  Weeds are tall, ferns are lush and poison ivy  climbs tree trunks with great vigor.

Since Rick has stayed behind on business in Vancouver, a friend from church has joined me for a few days.  Diane walks a ways ahead of me while I mumble through the ninth chapter of John.  The drawn out story I am learning is full of detail  about a man who was born blind and healed by Jesus.   I suppose Jesus could have just said the word and the man would have been able to see, but instead the healing happens in steps.  First Jesus spits on the ground.  Then he picks up the damp mud with his fingers.  He spreads the mud  on the man’s eyes.  Then Jesus tells the blind man to go wash in the pool called Siloam.  The man goes to the pool, washes and comes back able to see.  Even though the man has his sight for the first time in his life, the story is not done yet.  He will learn to see even more. 

The man’s  neighbors next argue over whether he could be the same person, blind from birth, who use to sit and beg.  When he tries to assure them that he is indeed the same man,  they ask him how it happened.  He tells them a man named Jesus did it. Then the religious leaders get involved and ask him the same question.  He  responds again that Jesus healed him, explains to them the steps of washing in the pool, and when asked how in the world that this could have happened, the man replies that Jesus  must be a prophet.  An argument among the religious elite commences, some refusing to believe what the man says happened to him, others complaining that Jesus should be condemned a sinner for breaking the Sabbath by healing.

Meanwhile as Diane and I  walk, we become increasingly aware of white fuzz  drifting through the air.  By midday, it is like a lazy snow shower.  Although we gaze above and below us, we cannot identify its source.  Diane finds a wad of the fuzz resting on a plant on the ground.  We at first think we have discovered what we are looking for, but further investigation shows there are no nearby plants shedding the white stuff.  If a ground plant is spawning the fuzz, we finally ask ourselves, how come so much of it is flying so high?  We start peering upwards for the culprit as we walk along, eyes straining, necks aching.  Where is it coming from?

“Here is an astonishing thing.  You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” (John 9.30)     

This is how the man answers his examiners when he is  brought in a second time by the Pharisees for questioning.  He says  that certainly Jesus could not be a sinner and do such an extraordinary healing.  It is only logical, he says,  that Jesus must be sent from God, at which point derogatory comments are hurled at him, and the man is thrown out of the gathering.    The religious community, skeptical neighbors, even his parents have let him down. The gift of sight has come to him with a cost. 

Jesus, hearing what has happened, searches for the man and asks him a pointed question: “Do you believe in the son of man?”   The term “son of man” was used by people to designate the one that God would anoint and send to save the people.  The man asks Jesus who this son of man is so that he can believe in him.  I imagine Jesus’ reply has a trace of teasing humor, “You have seen him.”  (Remember, the man hasn’t been seeing anyone for more than a few hours, so the possibilities of who he has seen are  limited.)  Then Jesus, the light of the world, reveals himself by saying, “The one speaking with you is he,” and the man quickly responds, “Lord, I believe.” 

Understanding and inner sight come step by step for the blind man: first knowing Jesus as the man who healed him, then Jesus as a prophet, then as one sent by God, then as  the son of man for whom the world has been waiting, and finally as the one  in whom he, the man who can now see, believes.  The man not only sees Jesus with his healed eyes, but now with a heart of faith, a true progression from blindness to belief, a progression of grace upon grace.

Diane and I are making progress too.  Diane finally spots  several large, dangling pods high above us in a tree.  The fuzz  is spilling out of them and we can see it scattering in the breeze.  In the tangle of branches, however, it is difficult to tell to which tree and trunk the pods belong.  She pulls her plant and wildlife book from her backpack, and we compare the possibilities of trunks standing near us.  Yes, what we are seeing fits the description of an eastern cottonwood tree.  For the rest of the day and into the next, we watch the cottonwood seedlings blow past us, their white softness collecting like snow on the dark canal water.  Then, suddenly, the season of flying fuzz has passed; the air empties.  The cottonwood seeds sink into water, burrow into the ground and go about the business of germinating.  Meanwhile, their parent trees concentrate on photosynthesis now that the daylight is at its longest.

I wonder if in our resurrected life I can have a interview with this man who received his sight from Jesus.   I would like to ask what surprised him the most when he suddenly had this new dimension of seeing.  Was it the blossoms on the olive tree?  The face of a beautiful woman?  The clouds streaked with sunrise color?  The steam curling from a warm loaf of bread?    I would like to ask him how the rest of his life went: what work did he take up when he could leave the business of begging?  Did he have children and, if so, did they then run out to play in the mud every time he told them this story about Jesus spreading mud on his eyes?  In their pretend game,  did they argue over who could spit the biggest to be Jesus and who would get mud smeared on their face like their daddy?

The beloved disciple tells us that Jesus said: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9.5)

This pilgrim prays:

I see astounding things on this trail everyday: like these  fluffy cottonwood seeds, pregnant with new life, gliding on the breeze to discover a home.  I am grateful for sight to wonder at your world.  I am even more thankful for the inward sight to know you—a gift that is even  more precious and which changes me profoundly.  I trust that one day I will see you face to face as clearly as I have finally seen these eastern cottonwoods.  Meanwhile, be my vision, Lord, still invisible  to my eyes, but a light in my heart.