The God Who Became Disabled

Joy and IHaving spent the last nine months as a live-in assistant in a L’Arche community (http://www.larcheusa.org/), I have come to read the scriptures and hear the readings a bit differently.  There are many examples of how God is changing my encounter with scripture while I am here, but one reading really stands out in particular.  I am recalling and reimagining the elegant Christ hymn from Philippians 2:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This passage takes on new shape in sharing life, in real solidarity, with my friends here, adults with developmental disabilities.  One in particular, Hope, strikes me in the heart.  Over twenty-eight years ago, Hope, while riding in a friend’s car, was in a horrific car accident.  She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt and was thrown from the car.  She suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and now she can barely use the left side of her body.  Much of her body is, internally, pinned and wired together.  Some days, everything just hurts.  She also has a hard time speaking.  Her words, despite her best tries, are mumbled and come out as though they are glued-together.  She often has to raise her voice in order to be understood, and when she does this, people often mistake it for her yelling, so she often receives a negative reaction from her merely trying to speak.  Her life can become awfully complicated.  So, now, she lives in community with other adults with developmental disabilities, most of whom have lived their entire lives with some diagnosis or another.  Hope has gone from able-bodied to disabled.  And to me, she often models Christ, especially when she doesn’t realize that she is doing so.

The Christian Story can, if we allow it, also be arranged as something like this:  Jesus, the Eternal Word, was with God in the beginning, and through the Word, God created everything that was and is and shall be.  Jesus begins in the place of power, the place of creation and wonder, but eventually, Jesus comes to be with us.  It is conceivable that Jesus could have come to lord over us as human rulers can do, especially seeing as how so much power was at his disposal, but he did not.  He chose a lowly form, divesting himself of power, becoming a child in a manger, growing up to become a servant, and washing his own disciples’ feet. Christ emptied himself. And I see Hope empty herself daily. She has had to give up a great many things. Her independence, for one thing, has had to go. She now shares life and many of her things with people who have Downs Syndrome, Blindness and Deafness, etc. She feels all of the limitations that come with a wheelchair and has had to accept them. She has a great deal of patience with people like me who have good intentions and want to help but who also come with their own limitations and difficulties. Her patience, exercised very subtly and easily taken for granted, and her ability to let things go, often expressed with her saying, “It don’t matter,” come together to offer a model for radical discipleship, in real humility, real humanity. Hope has her eyes set on something else, something that is both higher and all-pervasive. Hope has her eyes set on God, and so she practices her “small” spirituality, knowing that there is a God who also became disabled, who was emptied, who lost powers and might, for her and for us all, for the sake of love and who still, from the very beginning to the end of our lives and to the end of time, loves her and will always be with her. Hope sees the ever-inbreaking Reign of God on the horizon, and when she isn’t working for it in her own “small” way, she is content to wait for it, as surely as anything else she can expect. I see Christ in Hope and Hope in Christ.

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