By Rev. Joan Kessler
I would like us to take the next few minutes to watch a video that brings to life the story we just heard read of Jesus’ encounter with the bent over woman. As we consider issues of disability and inclusion and belonging, let us hear Linda’s experience of being physically disabled in an able-bodied world and church…
Linda’s words really struck a chord with me; a woman who lives out her life in a wheelchair, Lynda describes herself as a child of God, as leading a fulfilling life. She sees herself as someone who can give back and how this reality raises the question for her of mutuality, of being the same and mutually dependent upon one another. She doesn’t want to be seen as someone who is unable to do something. Lynda sees her story in the biblical story.
Watching this video has me thinking about our community’s discernment of becoming an Affirming congregation. The obvious question the video raises is “how can we include people with disabilities?”. But perhaps we are too narrow in this focus and the broader question we are being invited to consider is, “What does it mean to be human?”.
In our gospel reading from Luke, we hear of Jesus’ encounter in a synagogue with a woman bent over for some 18 years. We don’t know her story, we don’t know her name. She doesn’t make a scene or ask for help. She just stands back in the shadows, listening to Jesus. But Jesus sees her. He sees her and calls her over; he puts his sermon on hold, and he attends her. He lays his hands on her and immediately she stands up straight and praises God. Does he physically cure her that day? I don’t know, but I wonder. I believe Jesus saw her as a whole person with gifts to share. He affirmed the woman just as she was. He didn’t pity her or patronize her. She walked away praising God for the new life she found that day.
Winfield United is blessed to have a healing ministry that integrates different practices and is known as Healing Pathway. It offers transformational opportunities within a heart-centered, inclusive space. The focus and goals are restoring wholeness, wellness and balance at all levels of being; through grounding and meditation techniques there is a connection to the Divine, however that speaks to your understanding. Rooted in the Christian tradition, Healing Pathway is open to people of all faiths. If this practice speaks to you out of need or as maybe wanting more information on becoming a practitioner, I encourage you to be in touch with Sandy Bogardis or Sharon Hartwick. Sharon is presently taking her level 4 training and we look forward to Sharon integrating her learning and practice into the congregation over the coming months as we support her in this meaningful endeavor.
I return to the questions of what does it mean to be human? I read a most illuminating essay this week by Scottish theologian John Swinton, entitled Many Bodies, Many Worlds. He challenged my conception or perhaps misconception, of what it means to be inclusive. He writes that:
it is relatively easy to include people: they just need to be there. To include people with disabilities or anyone else, we just need to open up a space where they can be in the congregation. But a person can very easily be in the congregation and not of it! Inclusion is not enough; people need to belong. To be included, one just needs to be there; to belong one needs to be missed. To belong, others need to long for us to be back among them… To belong, people need to respect our world and take time to see out its value. To belong, people need to listen to the challenges and questions that our world raises.
As we wrestle with the question of what it means to be human, perhaps we also must ask, “Who are we missing today?”.
Jesus healed a bent over woman on the Sabbath despite the legalism of the religious authority in his day. Jesus’ example is that we always strive to create places and spaces of belonging where all human beings are affirmed and valued, and their gifts are shared to the benefit of the whole. This is not a story about rewriting rules or policy or needing an audit of a building. These are the things that happen once we see the world differently, see the body differently and rethink disability in light of this new vision. May we be a place of belonging and challenge our understanding of inclusivity.
May peace and healing and visibility find each one of this day and always.