Monday, July 15, 2013

What we can all learn from John Milton's blindness

Having been more acutely aware of my inadequacies recently, it is often easy to wonder if we are really "enough" to do all that God expects of us. Perhaps we struggle maintaining relationships, balancing our quotidian tasks, or exercising sufficient patience. John Milton addresses this very issue in Sonnet 16: "On his Blindness," where he frankly admits that his blindness may impede him from serving God in his fullest capacity.

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
  E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
  And that one Talent which is death to hide,
  Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present         5
  My true account, least he returning chide,
  Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
  I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
  Either man's work or his own gifts, who best  10
  Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
  And post o'er Land and Ocean without rest:
  They also serve who only stand and wait.

Here, Milton explains the crux of his struggle: he believes that his blindness may even render him "useless" in God's eyes. He loosely refers to the idle servant in Christ's parable of the talents, as he certainly does not wish to hide "that one Talent" from God himself. Yet Milton's literary prowess is ostensibly useless without his eyes. Or is it?

At the apex of Milton's despair, Patience teaches him that God does not need man's inner gifts. Rather, God is best served by those who "bear his mild yoke," or courageously submit to His will. Then of course, we have the last line that incites myriad analyses: "they also serve who can only stand and wait."  For me, this image conjures an image of a standing servant, actively waiting to perform his or her master's bidding when called. The act of being ready to serve God when called is just as noble as those who "at his [God's] bidding speed and post o'er Lands and Oceans."

I love this poem because it reminds me that a genuine desire to serve, not necessarily talents, makes me useful to God. In harboring this desire, we can further develop that necessary attitude for submission. And in turn, our souls can be recreated to become more than we can possibly imagine. Milton, for example, transformed into a Homer-like writer, composing two of the most seminal works in English literature while in physical darkness: "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained." Though we may not feel nearly as capable as others, we are nonetheless capable of bearing whatever contents of God's "mild yoke" may be.

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