Years ago I would avoid any situation that would have me ‘stuck’ trying to communicate with a person who was different to me. My worst nightmare was running out of things to say with someone who couldn’t verbalise well and the deathly silence crippling us both. In my perfect world people didn’t dribble, swing their arms randomly or make noises. My clumsy attempt at avoiding ‘different’ people only made my shallow soul more obvious to all…I wondered why the hell cerebral palsy happens to people, but more revealingly, I could feel the tension and I didn’t want to process something that would mess with my successful world challenging my personal aspirations and protective bias.
Everything about ill health yells from the mountain tops that injustice is alive. For the Christian faith it is a mystery that revels in the sticky gravy of contradiction and once you dive in, you may never get out. Severe intellectual impairment was the most disturbing confrontation to me. Many years ago when I hung out with groups of very conservative Christians, there was a view that everyone had to accept they were sinners and embrace Jesus as the main influencer in their life by following his teachings and that was the only way to assure eternity – I was sure there had to be more to the story than that. What happens if someone didn’t have the intellectual capacity or physical faculties to process such a complex thought – what then? Surely Jesus cared about these people equally? The only real alternative in my mind was to take the emphasis off the act of becoming ‘born again’ and consider it more ceremonious and not the core conduit for a relationship with God.
As I gallivanted down this pathway in my youth I was lucky enough to meet more progressive thinking Christians, I was relieved to discover God was much bigger than the boxes he was put in by others. I began to gravitate towards the idea that God must use infinite pathways to connect with people and that challenged the more rigid believer particularly when those pathways became more and more unorthodox.
Fast forward (more years than I care to admit) and I find myself living with a daughter (Sunshine) who has severe cerebral palsy, profoundly deaf, can’t verbalise and will need our assistance for the rest of her life (On most days I feel like the luckiest guy in the world, but more about that later). It would be ridiculous to think my daughter wouldn’t have the potential to explore her own faith. Her faith might be as simple as an awareness of how loved she is by us and I reckon God is big enough to accommodate that. On the other hand she might end up having the potential to understand more than me. If she does struggle to understand the concept of a spiritual being, ceremony can’t hold any particular power.
I think God has creative solutions for more than just physical limitations too. For instance, he would know that some people may never relate to a male figure because of an abusive experience they may have had and the whole idea of God who calls himself a father is repulsive. For that person their point of reference is going to have to be different from what is ‘theologically sound’. There are many ‘disabilities’ that God must work around that would demand us to take a wide view.
A few years back we started to talk to our other daughter (Jazmine – twin sister) about how Sunshine’s muscles didn’t work very well and she had something called cerebral palsy. We started working on a vocab she could use for talking to her friends about her sister. A few weeks after our first discussion she recited back the previous conversation, “because, yeah mum…Sunshines muscles don’t work very well because she has ‘terrible palsy’ right?” Out of the mouth of babes! We have since learned that many siblings refer to cerebral palsy as terrible palsy – it makes so much sense.
Terrible palsy shakes your world but it actually helped me grow up. It has been the closest thing I have experienced to a real spiritual journey and the people who have had the courage to do the journey with us would say something similar – although it costs something. It costs because the years it takes to form a particular world view, all of a sudden count for little and you have to start again. Not everyone is prepared to do that, to go back to the drawing board. For me the destination was irrelevant anyway, what was vital was my preparedness to open my heart up to the mystery that far surpassed a well groomed doctrine. Since our journey with Sunshine the regular pathways I used to move closer to God are now not helpful.
The issue of God healing or not healing people has become a stumbling block and I have had to reprogram my heart to find a different pathway that doesn’t bring so much pain. Sunshine has had to use different neurological pathways to move her arm or leg because of her brain damage and just like her I have to use different pathways to find God – we are on a similar journey. It is always helpful when you surround yourself with people who are comfortable to truly explore.
I believe the depth of your relationship with God isn’t measured by a blind faith that refuses to question…it is measured by the courage you have to question.
Walk towards the awkward – it could change your life!