A HEALTHY BODY
Statistics report that there are over forty million people who possess some kind of disability. This statistic suggests that one in every five people have some type of disability. This would mean that every one of us is acquainted with or a relative to at least one person who has a disability. Yet, sadly, very few disabled people regularly attend a worship service or are involved in a community of faith.
I must admit that I have visited many churches, yet have felt a genuine acceptance from very few. My first church experience was quite a memorable one, for all the wrong reasons. Even more distressing is that it is an all-too-common occurrence for most disabled people.
I could probably count on one hand how many times that my grandmother, or any other member of my family, for that matter, has ever attended a church service. The strong commitment that my family has to being indifferent to god, which, before this moment, had permeated each and every Sunday morning, was only second to the fantastic desire for me to be healed. The promise of a miracle, summoned my grandmother out of her comfortable domain and into a front pew of a small country church. My grandmother spent ninety-five percent of her time in the home, only leaving for groceries and the visitation of a sick relative. It is unfortunate that no one seemed to notice that my grandmother’s mere presence at this small church was quite a miracle in itself.
I sat quietly in the Saturday evening service, oblivious to the spectacle that I was soon to be part of. It was not long, however, Until I was thrust toward the altar and became the object of everyone’s attention. The charismatic preacher asked me two pertinent questions. (1) ”Do you believe in God and Jesus Christ?” ((2) “Do you believe that God can heal you? ” Now, I was certainly unchurched by anyone’s standards, but I did know my lines. After mumbling “YES” to both questions, the preacher put his hands over my eyes and prayed for what seemed to be an hour. Then, he uncovered my eyes and asked if I could see. When I did not reply, he questioned the strength of my faith and repeated the healing ritual. Instinctively, I understood what was required of me. I slowly proclaimed my blurred and unfocused vision. Reflecting upon this experience, it was quite absurd. First, my skills as an actress were far from convincing I am sure. Secondly, the congregation and my family expected me to recognize colors, objects and that I had never even seen before. That night, we all saw what we wanted to see and noone really saw anything of importance. Sometimes I think that instead of God giving me sight, he just made everyone else blind to the truth.
Curious readers should know that I am a horrible liar by nature. But, before my father and grandmother could see through my deception, my unbelieving mother saved me. My mother and her live-in boyfriend were very skeptical of this miracle. They administered a series of tests, which I most definitely failed. My grandmother always blamed my mother for she always said that my mother’s lack of faith made me lose my sight for the second time. Being the middle child of divorced parents; I usually did everything in my power to promote peace between my warring families. However, I was comfortable with letting this one stand as is.
As a sidebar, let me boldly proclaim that I do believe in God’s healing power and will never underestimate the greatness of God. I am not dismissing the experiences of those who have been healed. Furthermore, I praise God for their miracles. I also know that, far too often, it is the will of humans and not the will of God that compels us to do many things for the miracles that we seek. In addition, I implore you to take your own prayer list out. Read the requests. Chances are that the bulk of that prayer list is comprised of those who are requesting a healing of a physical nature. Doesn’t anyone wonder why there is more emphasis on our physical body than there is on the spiritual body? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with our spiritual well being which will outlive our physical body?
Despite my digression, this was the first of many experiences that strengthened my feelings of alienation between God’s people and myself. I am, however, not alone in this exclusion. I have had many dialogs with other disabled people that have affirmed my own experiences. I have found many authors who have written about the physical, social and attitudinal barriers which hinder a disabled person’s full participation in a spiritual community. Usually when a disabled person is not being healed or helped, they are ignored. Their accessibility to worship is compromised and their contributions to the faith community are minimized.
Similar to secular society, the disabled have been viewed as objects of pity and charity, instead of people with strengths and abilities that will enhance the body of Christ. Elaborating on stereotypes which perpetuate such attitudes, expounding upon the distinctions between “cure” and “heal,” comparing the Law of the land verses the Law of love and discussing the theologies of love and liberation are all interesting topics that should be saved for a future discussion. WE can analyze and theorize all day about this subject, in fact, I have spent many days doing just that. It could be society’s fear of imperfection. Most people have a difficult time admitting their own perfections, much less feeling comfortable with them being visible to the naked eye. It could be that the mere presence of disabled people elicit thought-provoking questions of healing and faith. Or, it could be that pastors and their congregations are uncertain of the beneficial roles that disabled people might play in the community of believers. Whatever the reasons, when it is all said and done, it comes down to Loving each other, as Christ Loved us.
This sounds like an elementary solution to a complex problem. I propose that it is only elementary in theory and rarely put into practice.
Many times disabled people are met with apathy or admiration. Whether in the pit or on the pedestal, there is a comfortable distance between the church and God’s disabled children. The majority of frustration and pain felt by the disabled people is not due to their physical or mental limitations, but by the rejection and exclusion from others. The soul-pain of coming up against negative attitudes on a daily basis amplifies physical pain. These attitudes are anticipated from secular society, but when the comfort and acceptance that is so willingly granted to others are denied to the disabled, the spiritual well being suffers much more than the physical body ever could. When pain dominates body and soul, the need for the reconciling and healing love and companionship of others becomes crucial. Yet, many faith communities fail to extend or provide this attentive care. Consequently, people in pain often experience "abandonment by God" and isolation from the faith community. Much too often, they conclude that disability, loss, and grief nullify any possible existence of God. They reject the notion of God because they couldn’t possibly be accepted, loved and nurtured by God or his people. The search for a loving family continues.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles command us to love with a deep fervent commitment to others. If we have an agape love, as Christ has demonstrated, our love will be sincere, equitable and liberating. If we are to immolate the community of Acts, we must shun polite benevolence and politically correct behavior and strive for a community that has a deep and sincere connection with all of its members. WE need to strengthen our familial bonds with all of Christ’s people. When your hearts seeks to eliminate the attitudinal obstacles between our own brothers and sisters, the physical barriers that were so visibly prevalent will miraculously disappear.
We are all commissioned to be the body of Christ. It is neither politically correct nor appropriate to dismiss a woman, a child, someone of another ethnic origin or a person with darker skin as an ineffective and useless part of the body. Yet, the strengths and contributions of disabled people are rarely even noticed, much less respected and appreciated as a valuable function of the Body of Christ. Truly, the body of Christ is impaired when the disabled are not included as functional members. In this way, the body is internally ill. This disease spreads throughout the entire body, rendering it useless in the sight of God. The peripheral vision that once allowed the body to see into the hearts of God’s people, is now blurred and myopically focuses on the outward appearance and superficial. The ears that were once able to hear the music of God’s word are now muffled by the voices of fear. The hands and feet work diligently for hours, yet accomplish little. The mind has grandiose delusions about its importance in God’s kingdom. It reeks with paranoia, always anxious of an attack from outside enemy forces, yet is oblivious to the poison that is ravaging every part of the body. Worse yet is when the disease invades the heart. The love that formerly coursed through Christ's veins has now been denied access. Ignorance, apathy and inaction have blockaded each artery and have made it impossible for Christ’s love to flow freely.
This is the body that is most in need of healing. Let’s lift up our body, recognize all of its wondrous abilities and strengths and unite all of its members to work for God‘s kingdom.
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