A reflection on the readings for Proper 16C: Hebrews 12:18-29 and Luke 13:10-17 (revised per comments below)...
Perhaps you heard the story on the news this week about Jane Lang, who with her Seeing Eye dog Clipper leading the way, walked to the Morris Plains, NJ train station Tuesday to travel to the Bronx for a Yankees game. Although she’s taken this route before, Tuesday was different, because members of the Yankees baseball team joined her.
Manager Joe Girardi, pitchers Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin and former Yankee Tino Martinez met the 67-year-old Lang at her home as part of the team's HOPE Week. HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) is a unique week-long community program aimed at bringing to light five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities. Initiated in 2009, HOPE Week is rooted in the fundamental belief that acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to more than just the recipient of the gesture. (YesNetwork.com)
Lang has been blind since she was 22, but that hasn’t prevented her from going to games where she listens to radio broadcasts in the stands so she can react to the action. The Yankees have an Americans with Disablities Act director who knew of Lang and nominated her for the honor. "She's obviously a person who's very humble," Girardi said while waiting for the train. "She was saying she didn't think Hope Week was for someone like her." Gaudin, too, was impressed by Lang's approach to life. "She's excited about being alive ... That's the inspiration she gives everybody. "Lang said she did not let blindness negatively impact her life." You have to live in the world the way it is, not the way you wish it was," said Lang, who began regularly attending Yankees games, after learning the route via subway. She said she goes to about 30 games a year. (From the DailyRecord.com).
Each of us here could probably share a story of someone we know who is struggling and has become a source of inspiration. Each of us here probably is or has at one time struggled as well with some sorrow or tragedy or unexpected misfortune. Life is unpredictable, things happen, we are all scarred in some way.
I’ve been thinking lately about a book I read many years ago by Joan Chittister called, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope: the Nine Gifts of Suffering. It’s not a book that everyone will like because she walks through this dark place of suffering with a keen eye to how our pain can also become a place of transformation and hope. Frankly, I think most of us would gladly give up the process of transformation in order to avoid the pain and suffering. But life is not like that. Suffering happens. Chittister says suffering usually comes when we least expect it and startles us out of a place of comfort and security. An illness, a death, a job loss, a car accident, some tragedy befalls us in such a way that we know that life will never be the same again.
Our Gospel reading this morning describes a woman with a spirit that has crippled her. She spent eighteen years in a place of deep pain, so much pain that she is literally bent over. Somehow she has found her way to Jesus and seeing her Jesus heals her. But that’s not the end of the story. Because .Jesus has healed this woman on the Sabbath and that upsets some people. Not because he healed but because he healed on the Sabbath. Jesus and these people each hold a different view of what should be done on the Sabbath. A different view of what can and cannot be done.
Likewise when it comes to our perceptions of who is able-bodied and who is disabled, of what can and what cannot be done, and what attributes constitute health and wellbeing we are confronted with different understandings. I recently spent some time with a woman who is blind. And I admit I was somewhat startled when this person said that being blind was her “most precious gift.”
Suddenly I realized that a person that I would call disabled because she or he is blind or sits in a wheel chair might be just as inclined to call me disabled because I don’t see or move the way they do. Suddenly I realized that Joan Chittiseter’s book is describing this very thing, that that which we assume is our deepest place of suffering may also be our most precious gift. Again I know many people who would say, forget the gift I’d rather not have the suffering. But, as we all know, suffering is a part of life.
So, if what my friend says is true, that being blind is her most precious gift, and if what Jane Lang says is true, that we must learn to live life as it is and not as we would wish, and if what Chittister says is true that our deepest suffering becomes the source of profound hope and transformation, then what I call blind is really just another way of seeing the world. Being hunched over is just another way of living in and moving in the world. Seeing as I do and moving as I do is just another way of being in the world.
The woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years was bent over. We might think that her vision was limited, looking as she must have at the ground, at feet and knees and hemlines of clothing. But her vision led her to Jesus and he healed her of that spirit, and for that she gave thanks and praise to God.
Not long ago I had a conversation with another friend of mine, one who is suffering from a deep loss, which has changed her life forever. Though her pain is still deep and the loss still profound she feels something stirring inside, something else is coming to life, in addition to pain and suffering. She said something like, “God has a hold on me and won’t let go.” I get that, I’ve my own share of burdens and suffering. I think God has a hold on me too. I’m willing to bet God has hold on you as well. In the words we hear from Hebrews, “we will not be shaken;” because no matter what happens God has a hold on us.
So, on the one hand we live in bondage from the limitations of our perceptions. Those perceptions may be the result of some kind of pain or suffering. They may be how we think someone else ought to feel, given what we think is their life circumstance.
On the other hand we live in the grip of a God who won’t let go of us. One limits our view of God’s love, healing, and grace, and the other opens us up to experience God’s love, healing, and grace in ever deepening ways. One is a human construct and one is a construct of God.
How we see and know God in our lives and in the lives of others is always limited by our own suffering, our own perception and vision and movement. But regardless of these limitations each of us is held in a grip of hope - the grip of God. A grip of hope that leads us to the feet of Jesus, where it becomes a grip of love that heals from the inside out and sets us free...
...and so it becomes our most precious gift.