31 | she helped me see #Lent2022

Jesus says, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (Luke 18:42)

Henrietta could be voluble at home and in her neighbourhood but was loath to say much in the classroom. Once, as I tried to converse with her, only to encounter long stretches of silence or, at best, monosyllabic replies to my increasingly coaxing questions, she decided abruptly to set me straight: “I’m not a good student, so I keep my mouth shut here in school!”

“But your comments at home have been very helpful,” I insisted, “and they have taught me a lot.”

“Oh, thank you. If you told the teachers that, they’d not believe you!”

“Should I try?”

“No! The more you say what’s good about me, the more they’ll disbelieve you!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m as sure as I can be!”

“I really wonder, Henrietta, if those teachers are so completely convinced that you can’t do well.”

“I know they are! They’re blind when it comes to us. They are.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

We stopped at that moment because of a fire alarm …

[Later] I mostly sat silently and read some notes on other interviews with Henrietta as she drew in response to my request that she try to picture her favourite Biblical scene. She worked carefully at the job, stopping several times to close her eyes and lower her head, as if she were praying. Once, after she’d done that, she must have seen the curiosity on my face. With a smile of recognition and of toleration, even friendship (I later realized), she answered my unspoken question: “I was just trying to picture Jesus in my mind, and someone he was trying to help.”

I soon saw the results of that leap of her moral imagination … “Do you remember Jesus trying to help the blind man?” … I still didn’t get quite what Henrietta was intending—and so, without saying a word, she sweetly and tactfully took my right hand and put it near her drawing, and then took my right forefinger and moved it toward the upper part of the left arm of the person on the left in her drawing, and then moved it along that arm until it came to rest at the end of the arm, which (I then began to understand) merged with the eye of the second person, on the picture’s right. Henrietta saw by my expression that she was helping me see, even as she had tried to show me Jesus healing a blind person … I sat there with her, looked at her as she looked at her drawing, took note of the satisfaction her face and her body were registering—the eyes concentrated on the paper, her seriousness still apparent in the way she kept holding the paper with two hands—and all of a sudden her vision, which I’d only partly comprehended, settled on me …

I asked Henrietta one last time for a comment on her picture: “Is there any talk going on? Do you think Jesus was saying something to that man as he healed him?”

The girl sat still, stared intently at her work of art, let her right hand go over it gently, a caressing act, an attempt, perhaps, to get closer to the heart of the matter. Finally, all she could say was: “Maybe He said something.” Then she herself said nothing more. While I searched for words to utter, she continued to look at her picture as if it would tell her a further truth. At last she came to a conclusion: “I don’t think he said anything, no—He touched him, and that was everything, and the man could see, and look who was there, God, and He was the best friend in the world to the man.”

She looked away. Her eyes were on me … The silence was at last broken by her: “Maybe Jesus sang while He healed.” …

A little later, Henrietta slowly moved her drawing toward me, let go of it as it touched my hands. I looked at her; our eyes met. She was smiling, and only then did I smile—to acknowledge her gift. I realized that for a few seconds I had been lost in reverie, my face far from beaming. Maybe this girl found my face in need of what her face offered, saw my eyes in need of what her hands were slowly offering me, the picture, yes, of course, but something else too. Ω

Reflect: When has a child opened your eyes to the world? What cues did you pick up on? What questions did you ask? What virtues did you need to be open to the gift?

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent. This year’s theme is Fruit of the Spirit. Why? Read this. #Lent2022. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent © Sanctuary, 2022. From Robert Coles. The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990: 176-181.

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