Green Eggs and Ham... a Lenten Reflection
I am Sam
Sam I am
I do not like
Do you like green eggs and ham?
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
What do Green Eggs and Ham have to do with Lent? Well besides the fact that Dr Seuss’ birthday falls during Lent this year, and that the story’s antagonist is (accidentally I’m sure) named after God “I AM”, I’d like to propose that this classic children’s story, much like the scripture we’re reading at mass now, shares a sense of overwhelming invitation.
The Gospel readings we hear this Lent are used particularly with those preparing to enter the church at Easter, the candidates and catechumens in the RCIA. They are stories of conversion and transformation- the woman at the well, the transfiguration, the man born blind.
In the story of the man born blind we hear about a fabulous miracle. Sight had been restored to a blind man. Not just any blind man but a man who was blind from birth, who had lived in darkness his whole life. It was unheard of. No one had ever given sight to a man born blind.
And yet, in the face of this unprecedented miracle, the religious experts of the day will not even entertain the possibility that they might be encountering the divine. Like Seuss’ central character, despite continuous and varied opportunities, (would you like them in box, would you like them with a fox?) who refuses to even try this spectacular, exotic dish, insisting at every invitation “I do not like green eggs and ham”
First the authorities question his religious practice “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” Jesus had broken the Sabbath prohibition against work by healing the man.
Then they suggest that perhaps the man wasn’t really blind to begin with. Even after the once-blind man’s parents are produced and testify to his former disability, the authorities refuse to believe.
When they question the man himself he is stunned by their lack of faith: The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
This passage is rich with symbol and meaning. Jesus uses his own spit–saliva was thought to have healing properties–and once we get past the gross factor, we might notice that Jesus mixes it with the dust of the earth. Jesus, as in the book of Genesis, with the creative force that began the universe, takes darkness, chaos, disorder and creates light, sight and healing.
He sends the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, Siloam means sent. In John’s gospel “sent” is a code word, a nickname for Jesus, Jesus, who was sent by his father to rescue the beloved-each of us- from sin, despair and death. Jesus is not just the one who gives sight to the blind. He is the Light of the world, the one who has come to banish its darkness.
The man born blind is questioned and questioned again and with each interrogation his faith becomes a little stronger. He finally professes his faith to Jesus himself.
Every single day of our lives, every moment of every day God is inviting us into wonder, into the infinite, into love. And somehow we are able to resist this incredible invitation. We are too busy, too afraid, too distracted, too something? and somehow we find ourselves responding with our own personal version of, “Not in a house, not with a mouse. I do not like green eggs and ham.” The religious authorities are offered to us as a warning: do not make the mistake of living in the darkness. The scriptures remind us again and again, we are not to judge as people judge for God uses a different standard.
We are to imitate the man born blind; we are to move from blindness, to sight, to insight. To surrender to love.
What does that mean to surrender to love? In school, at work, with our families, our friends or with strangers in our best moments and more importantly, in our worst moments, we are called to ask the question “How can I be a person of love in this moment?”
Wayne Teasdale in his book “The Mystic Hours” writes: “To live fully is to be aware of the opportunities to be compassionate and loving towards others. To love well is to love unselfishly and to strive to be ever more inclusive, extending one’s care even to those with whom we would not ordinarily associate. It is to be spontaneously open and receptive to those we meet who may need us in some way. In this sense life is a school where we are learning how to love more authentically and more comprehensively, including more and more people into our circle.”
It is in the surrender to love (not to power or selfishness or greed) that we become the singer of the 23rd psalm. We can have all the money or power in the world and yet we cannot walk through the dark valley without fear unless we have surrendered to love. Love, ultimately is the only thing that protects us from annihilation, from absurdity.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel a leading Jewish philosopher wrote, “What do we need to attain a sense of significant being? Three things: God, a soul and a moment. And the three are always present.”
Like Sam-I-Am’s incessant invitation. “Eat them, Eat them, here they are ” God is constantly bombarding us with invitations- we wake up in the morning and breath in life, we are in relationships that reveal God’s love to us, we are surrounded by beauty, we are invited to the Eucharist, to live every moment in the presence of God.
You may like them.
You will see.
You may like them in a tree!
In the dark? Here in the dark!
Would you, could you, in the dark?
Would you, could you, in the rain?
We all know how the story ends. In utter frustration, and only with the understanding that Sam-I-Am will then leave him alone, Dr Seuss’ reluctant character finally accepts the invitation and then in surprise and gratitude (not unlike the man born blind’s profession of faith) responds: I will eat them here and there, say I WILL EAT THEM ANYWHERE! I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you! Thank you Sam-I-am!
Lent is the time to renew our baptismal orientation toward the Light, to accept this invitation to move from blindness, to sight and into insight. At this point in lent, it might behoove us to revisit those ancient Lenten practices:
Fasting: the effort to empty ourselves so that we might experience the fullness of God.
Almsgiving: the effort to let go of some of our riches that we might rely on the abundance of God.
Prayer: the effort to let go of the constant noise and distraction of the world that we might enter into the deep, rich, profound silence of God and finally hear the whispered invitation? “I love you”.