Posted by: Dan | June 10, 2007

Longings of a Disabled Person

There are some longings that I have not been able to satisfy or abandon. In a way, I carry these longings as a wound within me; they are a thread of brokenness, of sadness, that runs through me and, increasingly, even at the best of times, they are never too far below the surface. I suppose that one can only encounter so much brokenness before one ends up broken-hearted, broken-hearted and longing for the day when all wounds will be healed, all tears will be wiped away, and all things will be made new.*

Until that day, it seems as though we live in the midst of an irresolvable tension.

On the one hand, having seen God intervene and reach into the depths of brokenness (both my own and that of others), we live with the hope that any one of us can be transformed. I have seen God break in and enable people to overcome unimaginably awful events (I say, “unimaginably” because, unless one has gone through such events, one literally cannot imagine what that event is like), and so, as I journey alongside of people overwhelmed by the Powers of Sin and Death, I persevere because one never knows when, or to whom, God will appear. I have seen survivors of brutally violent sexual assaults (although that’s a bit redundant since all sexual assaults are brutally violent) be not only healed but made new in unimaginably incredible ways (for some traumas are so deep that it is not enough to be healed, one must become a new person in order to be set free), and I have seen crack addicts, addicts that were going to “die on the street,” get freed from their addictions. There is no brokenness so deep that God cannot make us new, here and now.

On the other hand, I have more frequently seen God fail to intervene. Recently I had to bring a kid to the hospital, and the “hospital smell” vividly reminded me of all the times I spent with my oldest brother in the hospital when I was younger. I still remember the night that I was sitting beside him as he lay in a hospital bed, his six foot frame wasted away to under 100 pounds, he was writhing and groaning with pain; I remember then how I stopped praying for God to make him better and started praying for God to “take him home” (an emergency surgery later that night saved his life and, although he is not “healed,” his life is “liveable” now… at least until the disease flairs up again). However, there are others I know who carry a form of pain that cannot be cured or appeased by any medical procedure. I think again of the many I have known who carry the ongoing wounds of sexual trauma: the bodily scars they keep covered, the nightmares that wake them at night, and the way in which such events fracture the world and make it a foreign, dark, and threatening place. And I also remember those who never came to see any healing. Pain ended up overwhelming them — I remember Becky jumping in front of a subway train, I remember Ruckus bleeding to death on a street corner, I remember Shaun overdosing in an alley.

And so my life is marked by a longing that is rarely satisfied. I live as one who is too weak to accomplish that for which I long. I cannot overcome the power of Addiction any more than I can physically cure my brother, or anymore than I can piece Becky’s shattered body back together. I live, in places of godforsakenness, as one who is disabled.

That might be the reason why the following quotation resonated so deeply with me. It comes from an article by Nancy L. Eiesland, herself a person with a disability, the author of The Disabled God: Toward a Liberation Theology of Disability. She writes:

I was reading Luke 24.36–39… “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them… They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.’” …here was the resurrected Christ making good on the promise that God would be with us, embodied, as we are – disabled and divine… The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognised as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear the marks of profound physical impairment. The resurrected Christ of Christian tradition is a disabled God.

God with us, disabled and divine; the resurrected Christ, marked with a profound physical impairment. Strange that such a thought should be so comforting. Strange that, to many who are suffering, a God of weakness becomes so much more meaningful than of God of absolute power (strange, perhaps, until we remember what Power has done to those who suffer). Is it enough to know that God is broken when we are broken? Is it enough to know that God weeps when we weep, bleeds when we bleed, dies when we die? No, it is not enough, but it is something. It means that we are not forgotten, and we are not alone. And if it is God who remembers us, if it God who is with us, than perhaps there will yet be a day when our longings are fulfilled.

Until that day, I live as one disabled, following a disabled God. Christ’s hands pierced, and my hands too impaired to heal the brokenness I encounter. Christ’s feet pierced, and my feet too impaired and slow to prevent the brokenness that precedes me. I am always too weak and too late. I cannot do enough. But, perhaps, I can still do something. I can remember, and I can be with others.

Sadly, such remembering often means remembering against the Church (as a member of the Church). Until the Church begins to remember and journey with the broken, those whom I remember — those like Becky, Ruckus, and Shaun — are remembered as a charge against the Church. What did you do, O Church, for those like Becky, Ruckus, and Shaun? Nothing. You don’t even have any memory of them. Thus, even as I remember them on your behalf, I also remember them against you.
_________
*By speaking of these things, as I sometimes do on this blog, I am not seeking consolation or encouragement. I am simply recognising that this brokenness is a part of who I am and a part of the road laid out before me — and before any of us who are seeking to journey alongside of those who suffer in exile today.

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