Cataract Surgery: A New Quality of Seeing

I found out this week that I need cataract surgery in both eyes. The right eye is very bad, and will be done first in November. Then the left in December. As part of the process today of preparation, they had me watch a video of what the surgery consisted of and how cataracts cloud your vision. As the cataract grows on the lens, and in my case it probably has been developing for 2-3 years, it causes the vision to be more and more foggy. I’ve had to get new exams and glasses in Pune twice the past 2 years. Interestingly, at the last exam in Pune in late March the doctor said that he thought I would need cataract surgery in about 4-5 months. He was right.

Cataracts cause our vision to be more and more cloudy. As the doctor told me again today, there is no medication you can take to cause them to go away. The only way you can get clear sight again is to have surgery. These surgeries were first done in the 1940’s, but were much more laborious, and one eye could take over 2 hours. Now it can be done in 15 minutes. It is not of course without risk, as no surgical operation is. But as many around the world attest, and I’m sure some reading this post, it provides the opportunity for whole new vision. As I watched the video today, there were clips of people who had the surgery. They talked of how they could see colors again clearly and vividly. Their vision became completely different.

Of course as I reflect on what cataracts do to our sight, it brings up the parallels with not only our physical seeing, but how we see life and people. Over time our ‘seeing” can become foggy, even jaded with negative attitudes and feelings towards ourselves and others. Spiritual and mental cataracts form over time, usually without us even being aware of them. They grow and grow, and they will not go away without some kind of surgery in the spirit. In religious terms we call it a ‘conversion”. A change in how we see, how we look at the world or at God.

One of my favorite writers on the spiritual life, Henri Nouwen, describes what Thomas, an apostle of Jesus, went through in his journey to see without ‘cataracts’: “Although Thomas did not believe in the resurrection of the Lord (at first), he kept faithful to the community of the apostles. In that community the Lord appeared to him and strengthened his faith. I find this a very profound and consoling thought. In times of doubt or unbelief, the community can ‘carry you along’, so to speak; it can even offer on your behalf what you yourself overlook, and can be the context in which you may recognize the Lord again.” (From The Genesee Diary)

Very often we are not able to lose our spiritual and mental cataracts without the help of others, and we need to be carried in community just as Thomas was. In my last post, A Doubting Saint: Ever Feel Abandoned By God? , I described the turmoil Mother Teresa felt over many years as she struggled with dryness and a sense of abandonment. I don’t know if Mother Teresa struggled with physical cataracts, but I think that the spiritual fogginess and lack of clarity she felt at times were due to cataracts in the spirit. Cataracts that in the mystery of faith God allowed. And these cataracts were healed once and for all when she saw her Savior and Lord face to face.

Once someone came to Mother Teresa and asked her to pray for clarity in their life. She responded however with a different prayer, this is what she said: “Oh, I won’t pray for clarity in your life, but that you may learn to trust.” Trust is different than clarity. Someone said once that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. There are times when we just can’t see clearly, when fog seems to close in over our future, our relationships, our very sense of the presence of God. It is those times when the new way of seeing involves a deeper trust than we’ve ever known.

I’m glad I live in a time in history when there is the opportunity for cataract surgery. It will be a new way of seeing. I will see colors again in a fresh way. What is now a bit foggy and blurry will be vivid again. That is a physical picture of the ‘healing’ we will have someday when we are face to face with the One we love. The final, complete healing. Until then we will have areas of our vision, of our relationships, of our own sense of doubt, that will have forms of ‘cataracts’. But we will trust and not give up.

I’ll let you know how the surgery goes! But until then, and even after, I want to continue to trust, whether there is clarity or not.

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