Kissing the Leper (June 14, 2015)

Our Bible study group just finished reading “The Shattered Lantern” by Ronald Rolheiser.  It was an interesting experience.  It’s not the most accessible of books, and we weren’t always in agreement with the author, or even sure of what he was saying, but we had some wonderful discussions and, I believe, some real spiritual growth.

The last chapter focused on contemporary spiritual exercises, particularly contemplative prayer, but it was another practice, “kissing the leper,” that caught my attention. Rolheiser told a story of St. Francis, before his conversion, when he went into town to party, and found his way blocked by a leper in the road.  Francis couldn’t get around the man, and he was determined to get to town for some fun, so he got down from his horse to physically move the leper, even though the sight and the smell of the man disgusted him.  But a strange thing happened; when he touched the leper he found himself overwhelmed with the sense of God’s love.  He kissed the leper, and everything changed.

And it was an experience I had this week.  I kissed the leper.

I picked up a prescription at my drugstore and was headed back to my car.  I use the CVS that is close to where we used to live, before we bought our home in Eureka.  It is in a somewhat marginal neighborhood, but I love the fact that the clerks know me by name.  If my husband picks up my medication, they write notes to me on the Rx slips.  I love that kind of personal attention, which husband doesn’t receive at the other CVS in town.  So I continue to patronize that one.

As I headed toward my car, I saw a middle-aged man dressed somewhat shabbily and smiled and said “Hello” to him.  He said “Hello” somewhat tentatively, then turned around to look at me with a skeptical look on his face. I asked how he was doing, and he smiled and said, “Good, how are you?”  Then he asked, “You really want to know, don’t you?”  He walked toward me.

I replied “Yes,” and he smiled and said, “Thank you.  Most people really don’t care.”  And then he hugged me.  I hugged him back – he made my day.  He could have been homeless; I don’t know or care.  What I knew was he was someone who needed a smile and a “How are you.”  We all do.  A woman in a wheelchair further down the pavement, who had followed this interchange, looked at me, smiled, and said, “Hello.”  It was a chain reaction of good will, of God’s will.

How many times are we considered the leper, with our visible (and invisible) disabilities?  How many times are we regarded with fear or mistrust or misunderstanding?  What if we turn the tables and we reach out first with the kiss?  What would the world look like then?

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Colossians 3:12

I will be having surgery on my left eye this coming week.  I’m not sure if and when there will be a devotional next week.  A dear friend from my former home town, Bishop, had the same surgery last month and is keeping me apprised of her progress.  It will be some months before my vision improves, but I should be able to read and write by the following week.  I welcome your prayers for my surgeon and for my recovery, as well as for my ever-patient husband, my friends.

Dear God, Thank you for the brothers and sisters you place in our path each day.  Remind us that we all are family, and help us to reach out to those who need our smiles, our hellos, and our hugs.  Thank you for doctors who heal us, and loved ones who care for us.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

In Praise of Gadgets (June 7, 2015)

Last week I received my Christmas/Valentine’s Day/Easter/Mother’s Day gift – a shiny new Apple Watch.  I’m sure some of you might be thinking, “What a silly thing to buy,” but I am delighted with it.  It means I don’t have to dig through my purse for my phone for so many things.

My husband and I are self-confessed gadget geeks.  I started using a smart phone many years ago, when DayRunner quit making the small version.  I  was delighted with the idea that now I could carry my address book, calendar, shopping list, medical records, even my Bible (in two languages!) on my phone.  My watch doesn’t have my shopping list, and the Bible app isn’t quite ready yet, but it handles my e-mail and messages, the weather, my schedule, maps, the latest news, and some very helpful health applications.  It keeps track of my pulse, and reminds me to stand up (as I’m able) and move my arms and body once an hour.  I like that.  And, of course, it tells the time.  I can even choose different watch faces depending on my mood or the occasion.

I saved my money for a long time to get this little piece of technology.  I know some people consider it frivolous, but I consider having all these applications on my wrist a benefit.  (And, I confess, I always loved Dick Tracy’s wrist radio!)  I pause to thank God that I live in a time when technology has advanced to the point where such marvels are available.  I have a power wheelchair – a boon because my hands are disabled and I can’t propel myself in a manual chair.  I have a mobility van, with a ramp that comes out the side door, and a transfer seat which slides back and out, allowing me to transfer me from my wheelchair to the driver’s seat and drive myself around town.  I have a special knob on the steering wheel because I can’t hold the wheel for very long.  I relish my independence.

This kind of freedom was unthinkable just 50 years ago.  In fact, it wasn’t until 1947 that Walter Harris Callow designed the first wheelchair accessible buses for disabled veterans in Nova Scotia.  Tracing the history of the wheelchair-accessible van is sketchy, but it is recorded that the rear-entry kneel van concept was imported from the Netherlands in 1985.  We know that Ralph Braun invented a wheelchair lift that could be operated with hand controls in 1966.  In 1970 he presented the Dodge “Lift-a-Way” full-size van to the world, and the accessible minivan in 1991.  Other companies followed.

The power wheelchair is also the gift of a Canadian, George Klein, who developed the chair for paralyzed World War II veterans sometime in the early 1950s.  Subsequent innovations and improvements have resulted in more comfortable seats, chairs that can maneuver through sand, gravel, and dirt, seats that can raise and lower the user, and chairs that can be operated with a sip-puff system, among other things.

Thanks to these forward-thinking inventors, I can go to school twice a week to tutor children in reading and mathematics.  I can drive myself to my doctor appointments, to Bible study and other personal errands.  I am so grateful.  How has technology helped you, or a friend or loved one?

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

We thank you, Dear Lord, for the gifts of creativity you have given to some people, that have benefited so many others.  We are grateful that we are not confined by our physical limitations, but given the freedom to freedom to venture outside our doors and into the world.  We thank you for our wheels, which have become our wings.  Amen.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (May 31, 2015)

About this time of year, many churches think about celebrating Disability Awareness Sunday.  I am grateful for this, because there are many more that still do not.  But I sat in church last Sunday thinking about the Scriptures they will choose.  Invariably many will choose Mark 2:3-11, which is a lovely story about some devoted friends taking their paralyzed friend to see and hear Jesus.

It’s not that I have anything against this passage.  The man is blessed to have such friends, who actually take their friend up on the flat roof, tear through the thatch,and lower him down to Jesus’ feet because they can’t get him in through the packed doorway.  It’s a wonderful story of friendship and devotion.

But after a time I began to rebel and choose other stories, where people weren’t bringing those needing healing to Jesus, but Jesus was finding them, like the blind man in Luke 18:35.  I thought it was important for Jesus to be looking for those in need of healing; don’t ask me why.

Last Sunday I had an epiphany.  Why must we choose only scriptures talking about healing for Disability Awareness Sunday?  Are we only acceptable in God’s eyes if we are healed, or seeking healing?  What if we can’t be healed?  Are we somehow less worthy, less important?  I don’t think so.

What if we use Psalm 139 as a starting point:

“For it was you who formed my inward parts;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Psalm 139:13-14

Fearfully and wonderfully made, indeed.  The psalmist doesn’t say “unless my spine is crooked,” or “unless I can’t walk,” or “unless my mind is weak,” or “unless I can’t see or hear.”  The psalmist says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  We are all wonders of God’s handiwork, just the way we are.  Instead of focusing on how Jesus cured some blind and paralyzed and deaf and mentally ill people, perhaps we should focus on how we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and we can all be incorporated into the kingdom of God.

Perhaps we can focus on tearing down the attitudinal as well as the physical barriers that exist in our churches.  Maybe we can eliminate or rewrite some of the hymns with hurtful phrases and images.  Perchance we can celebrate the Spirit in each other, lift each other up, love each other as Jesus commanded.  And when we can do that, watch out!  The Spirit will come pouring out those doors and into the world in a flood that cannot be contained.  Oh, that it may be so!

Dear Creator God,  You indeed have made us fearfully and wonderfully in your image.  With your grace and your power, we can be instruments of your love in this world.  Help us to be your ambassadors, and to bring people to you.  In the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.