Our older dog Stella went blind last month. She lost sight in her left eye three years ago, from glaucoma, and we were told the same thing would happen to her right eye. And so it did. Glaucoma in dogs is a crisis: head-splitting pain, eye pressure cutting off blood to the optic nerve, act fast or they’ll lose their sight … and they usually lose their sight even if you do act fast.
I posted photos of Stella on social media, sharing the good side of the story, the part where we love our dog, who is no longer in any pain, that life continues and we are fine, which we are. Stella turns twelve this Wednesday, and few creatures on this planet live as contentedly, safely, and simply as she.
But the first few days and weeks without her sight were hard for all of us (even our younger dog, who knew something was different but couldn’t quite put his paw on what it was). I don’t know what Stella was thinking, which is the hard truth about humans relating to animals of other species: they can’t verbally tell us what’s going on, and our species is usually not fluent in non-verbal, non-primate communication. A dog-loving veterinarian friend of mine reassured me that “dogs don’t feel self-pity,” and this was comforting. Stella is not mourning her blindness because she does not know she has it: she can’t see, but she does not know why, and she can’t imagine a future, sighted or not. All she knows is, the lights went out.
Then it occurred to me that Stella, who is a dog, might have a hard time imagining all this from another being’s perspective, so maybe she is assuming that since she can’t see, none of us can see. It seemed that way on the first few walks. She would freeze on the sidewalk, ignore my leash pulls and verbal reassurances, and try to turn in counter-clockwise circles. She was lost, confused, and seemed to be thinking that this walk was a very bad idea now that we’re all blind. “I cannot see,” she seemed to be reasoning; “therefore, there is no light. In this immense darkness, how can I trust Delta when he makes the noises, ‘It’s okay Girl! Come on now’?”
But Stella is finally beginning to trust us, that somehow we have a way to lead her through this vast darkness. She trots behind us like she used to, vacuuming up the rich smells of spring that cover the ground and the trees.
But we are also learning to trust Stella. Dogs don’t feel self-pity, but humans do. I grieved her loss of sight, and that grief was fairly selfish. I bought a book on the topic, Andrew and I consulted with friends who have been through it, and we began teaching ourselves the right balance of encouraging her to learn a new path versus just picking her up already and plopping her down in front of the water dish. We have to tune into her, reassure her, and listen to her. We need to be patient. And just as she will never see light again, we will never know what’s on her mind, how she feels, or what every last need of hers might be.
If God is in this story, God is not Stella, or the humans. Maybe God is the leash that connects us.
Thomas, one of the twelve, was off leash on the day of Resurrection. He was not there that evening when they fearfully locked themselves in a room and Jesus found his way through the walls. “Thomas” is a name that means “twin,” but we don’t meet his twin, and some say that’s because we—the readers of John’s Gospel—we are the twin of Thomas. His behaviors are ours: we were not there either, and we long for a connection to the experience. What really happened? You say you saw him, but I can’t believe it. And I hate that I missed it.
So Thomas gets his wish: on the following Sunday—and we are meant to notice that after the resurrection, Sunday, the first day of the week, is newly important—on the following Sunday Thomas has the opportunity to place his hands in the wounds, to fully experience the truth of Christ’s living presence before him.
But he doesn’t do it. Confronted by Jesus and invited to touch, Thomas simply gapes in wonder and cries out, “My Lord and my God!”—a new title for Jesus, the Title of titles, the title it took the whole Gospel of John for someone to ascribe to him. The story began with the disciples and others trying various titles on him: rabbi, Son of Man, Lamb of God, Son of God. And then there are the I AM identity statements of Jesus himself, meant to connect him to “I AM”—the Name of God in the Hebrew Bible: Jesus calls himself “I AM the Bread of Life; the Light of the World; the Door; the Good Shepherd; the Resurrection and the Life; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the True Vine.” Then, after Jesus speaks her own name in the resurrection garden, Mary Magdalene becomes the new Eve who leaves God’s garden not in shame, but with glad tidings: “I have seen the Lord!” she cries out. But only now, near the very end, does Thomas put it all together and—without touching the wounds—he proclaims Jesus “my Lord and my God.”
Thomas echoes the psalmist in Psalm 35, who sings, “Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord! Vindicate me, O Lord, my God, according to your righteousness…”
Finally, it all comes together.
It all comes together in a room full of friends with a shared trauma, and a shared mystery.
It all comes together in the follower who was late to the party, and had always been a little behind the curve in his understanding of what was going on.
It all comes together when that follower demands a connection, asserts with confidence his need to be included, and it all comes together when his friends allow that to happen. (Maybe they gave Thomas latitude because, even though they were there on the day of Resurrection, they still can’t make sense of what they saw … and so they, too, are Thomas’s twin.)
It all comes together when that follower begins to trust before he understands it all.
And finally, it all comes together when that group of friends goes on to change the world with a new way of living, building a community of love and equality and hope against impossible odds, a community that continues to evolve and grow even now, even here.
We live in a darkened mess of a world, roiling with violence and ignorance and fear. As the oceans rise and refugees flee and working families barely break even and a black president eulogizes young black men shot dead, we long to see the shining wounds of the One who somehow defeated death and overcame darkness with light.
And we find him in this room, full of friends, many of us not immediately knowing what’s going on. We need not touch his wounds, because they are borne on our own bodies, the wounds you suffer when you open your heart to a neighbor. And we gape with wonder at what we see here: broken and shared, we taste the Bread of Life, we see the Light, we proclaim the Resurrection. After we gather here on Sunday, that Light shines in our lives all week long. Here we behold our Lord and our Go, and here we make our song of 'alleluia,' rejoicing that despite all the horror and darkness aroun and within us, all is not yet lost.