Here's the piece I wrote for today's devotion over at Ordinary Time.
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
I have a friend in a distant state who thinks that junky Jesus toys are hilarious. Once she sent me a book about clowning for Jesus, with all these photos of really very scary clowns. Another time she sent a lunch box with the Last Supper painted on it. But my favorite of her gifts was the Jesus Action Figure.
He is shiny and very serious, and since my husband noted at once his remarkable resemblance to the rock-guitar legend, we took to calling him Santana Jesus. Under his swirly, molded plastic gown, where, if he had any, his feet would be, are tiny wheels. When we took him out of his box and pushed him slowly across the table, Santana Jesus seemed to glide. Gently, as if he were calming a stormy sea.
My son and I enjoyed playing with him for a while, but then, because he reminded me of my friend and because I thought it was hilarious too, I taped him to the dash of my little old Honda.
If Seattle traffic isn’t too bad and if the rain isn’t falling too hard, driving time can also be good prayer time. Accompanied by Santana Jesus, I found it got better. And clearer.
“Whaddya think,” I would ask Him out loud, “should we just take 99, or do you think 15th would be faster?” Gradually, it seemed I could hear him answer. “Well, 99 of course,” he would say. Or maybe, “Hey babe, whatever. It’s all cool.” (Santana Jesus always talks like a...well, you know, a rock star. And he always calls me “babe.”)
“Jesus,” I would fret, chewing on a botched interaction with a parishioner, “I really need some help figuring out what to say to her next.” “Sure, babe. Try shutting up and listening for a change,” he would advise.
Being reared mainline Protestant, with these remarkable Tiffany stained glass windows of lilies our only icons, I wasn’t really prepared for both the allure and the danger of an actual physical representation of Jesus in a place of such prominence as the car’s dashboard. It wasn’t long before the gorgeously fake face of Santana Jesus appeared to me in moments of prayer even when I WASN’T in the car.
When I was pushing him around on those little wheels, he had just been a toy. Anchored securely to the dash of my car, Santana Jesus had become an indispensable part of my prayer life.
Bartimaeus had more than a plastic statue, he had the real thing. When he knew Jesus was nearby, he shouted out, and when the others tried to silence him, he kept shouting. He shouted until Jesus stood still enough to make a little circle of quiet around his holy self and blind Bartimaeus on that busy Jericho road. Jesus stood still, until the crowd took notice; those who had been shushing Bartimaeus a minute ago suddenly began encouraging him to “take heart.” Jesus stood still, and Bartimaeus, who needed him more than anyone in that crowd, went right to him. Jesus stood still.
I wonder if it was the stillness of Santana Jesus that made him seem almost holy. Santana Jesus stood still. Affixed to the dash, no longer gliding around on his invisible wheels, his little face regarded me with an attitude of, if not rapt, then at least undivided attention. Jesus stood still and he loved me even when I got lost, cursed, drove in circles, shouted, and finally stopped altogether. Jesus stood still and I always knew where he’d be waiting for me. Jesus stood still.
Several months ago, I got a new car, more boringly reliable than my cool old Honda. I did not attach Santana Jesus to the dash. I shoved him in my glove box, along with maps and matches and other detritus transferred in the car change.
I’m choosing my next icon with more care. I’m still waiting for the right one to appear. But now and again, when I’m stalled blindly by life’s roadside, buffeted by the crowd, I shout out to Jesus. In those moments, I still see Santana Jesus in my mind’s eye, shiny and calm. And he’s saying, “Hey, babe, whatever. It’s all cool.”
Brother Jesus, thank you for being the still presence in the crowd, the encouraging word in the midst of jeers, the the healing touch in the time of pain. Help us to love those we encounter on the way as gently and completely as you have loved us. Amen.