Nancy Mairs, poet, essayist, teacher of embodied spirituality, came to lecture at Drew University several years ago. Much of her writing and teaching was engaged in the struggle for justice, artistic expression, and recognition of the humanity of those with handicapping conditions. She was in a wheelchair and had limited use of her hands at that point of her life, but she made a lasting impression on individuals as well as the institution.
Handicapping conditions? Disabled? Or should I use the term differently abled? What language could I borrow or invent or honestly use to name without blame? Since I had the honor of introducing Mairs, I decided my best course of action was to ask, despite her reputation for not tolerating fools. What did she want me to say? Was there a right way?
“Be specific,” Mairs replied. “I have MS. Say so. I’m not blind or deaf. Tell them I’m a cripple.” I know my face registered shock at the word I’d been taught never to say. I was, for a moment, speechless. Later I would read her essay on why stating it that way was speaking the truth, but at the moment I felt at a loss. She took pity on me and offered a piece of wisdom I’ve learned to treasure. “You know, it may help if you remember that you’re only temporarily able.”
Matthew and Isaiah (35:5) are also specific. Eyes. Ears. Legs. Skin. They name physical conditions that have represented loss and limitation to human communities for centuries. They employ these physical descriptions to demonstrate the depth of healing that God will give. The Holy One’s coming will free us. We will be imago Dei (“image of God”) without limitation. Does that mean only temporarily able-bodied? No. It means freedom in the mystery of the One who was both wounded and whole.
Dear Healer of the wounded, keep me alive to your love. Make me able through your baptism to be a disciple. Amen.
These readings convey that God’s coming, or the coming of the Messiah, will be profoundly transforma- tive. The promises of messianic possibility work against our exhaustion, our despair, and our sense of being subject to fate. The psalm provides a comprehensive summary of the miracles wrought by God in the past to make new life possible. Jesus’ life and ministry embodied these large expectations of Israel. The prophetic oracle, psalm, and Gospel reading all move toward the practicality of the epistle reading, which demands that we allow this claim of new human possibility to permeate all of life. Our life is directed to the reality of God, the very God whom we dis- cern in our present and to whom we entrust our future.
• Read Isaiah 35:1-10. Where in your life do you feel that you have gone astray? After you realize you are lost, how do you return to the way that is God?
• Read Luke 1:47-55. When have you spoken fearlessly about a situation in your life?
• Read James 5:7-10. For what do you thirst?
• Read Matthew 11:2-11. What characteristics draw you to a
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I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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