I WISH to share with you a personal story. It is a true story, and one that, I hope, will offer some insight into how I have come to understand my relationship with God specifically as a disabled person, and how the resurrected Body of Christ has become for me the place of ultimate belonging and the answer to all my longing.
I have a hereditary bone condition, multiple exostosis. It involves lots of bony spurs growing outwards from all my joints, interfering with my ability to move freely; so, like my mother before me, it involved lots of invasive surgery, especially while growing up.
As a child, I had all my many operations at the Woodlands Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. Now the thing that one needs to know about the Woodlands is that the children’s ward is the furthest from the operating theatre; so the journey to the theatre took between 15 and 20 minutes, sometimes longer. It was not a fun journey.
LOOKING back, I remember one constant throughout my many operations, and that was my mother. She was at my bedside early on the morning of each operation, always seeking to calm me down, either by telling me how proud she was of me or offering catchy little prayers, all to help to distract me and ease my anxiety.
When the porters came to take me to theatre, my mother would walk beside me, holding my hand, talking, soothing, and distracting me as only a mother can. She was with me as I was put to sleep, and she was there holding my hand as I awoke, ready to tell me that I was the other side of the operation.
I regret now how rarely I reflected at the time how costly this was for her; for my mother deeply understood what I was going through, as she, too, had gone through the same experience on countless occasions. It must have been intensely distressing to be alongside one whom she loved so acutely, watching me endure what she had suffered as a child. Yet she also knew that each operation was essential for my health, and so she quietly bore the cost, operation upon operation.
THERE was only ever one time, in my early teens, when my mother couldn’t be there with me for one of the operations, and I felt — having by this time been through multiple operations — that I would be able manage on my own. So, the same routine unfolded: the porters arriving to take me on the 20-minute journey to theatre; being put to sleep; waking up in the recovery room, post-operation — only this time without my mother present.
Oh dear. By the time the porters arrived, I was all but climbing the wall. Sitting bolt upright, in tears, I implored the porters not to take me down to the operating theatre. I fought the anaesthetist, and had to be held down so that I could be put to sleep. And when I woke up, I was so confused as to where I was that I shouted the ward down.
It was a profoundly distressing experience. Not having my “loving constant”, my mother, present — the one who understood from the inside out; the one who loved me and whom I trusted above all other — profoundly changed the whole context and the whole experience. I missed my mother’s profound and deep empathy, rooted in lived experience. I missed my companion on the journey. I missed her immeasurable love and compassion.
NOW, when I imagine God, it is often the image of my mother accompanying me on the journey to theatre which comes to mind. Like her, God is by my side. Like her, God is reaching out his hand and inviting me to take it and hold it. Like her, God is telling me that I am loved, that I am perfect in his sight, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. For I am made in God’s glorious image, revealed through the Risen Body of Jesus Christ, both wonderfully divine and profoundly vulnerable.
The Risen Body is God’s invitation to acknowledge, own, and ultimately love our vulnerabilities, thus delivering for us our ultimate freedom and liberation. Christ’s Risen Body reveals true love to be vulnerable, selfless, and open to suffering.
The open wounds are not healed, but nor is the body broken. The wounds of Christ are fault lines: places of often profound pain and suffering, and yet also places of creation, gift, and growth. The Risen Body is our place of ultimate belonging and God’s answer to all our longing. God suffers as we suffer, God celebrates as we celebrate, God mourns as we mourn.
MY MOTHER didn’t stop my operations. She was only too aware that they would cause me pain and suffering, but she also knew that on the other side of each operation was the promise of hope, healing, and restoration.
Neither does being a Christian allow us to avoid facing the realities of life. Being a Christian is not a “Get out of jail free” card. Rather, the Risen Body of Jesus Christ promises us a new way of living, a new lens through which we can face the realities of life — a context of redemption and hope that empowers and transfigures the very way we live our lives.
The invitation to be a Christian is the invitation to respond to the generous offer of God’s graceful hand. God’s hand is offered to us today and every day. The life, death, and resurrection, the incarnated Risen Body of Jesus Christ, affirm that this really is a hand worth taking. For God’s hand is offered through grace.
We neither deserve nor do not deserve it. God loves each one of us with a graceful love that goes way beyond that of a parent to a child, way beyond that of any human relationship. It is a love that is utterly selfless, open to suffering, wishing to enter our vulnerabilities; a love whose sole focus is our personal and collective flourishing.
DURING the pandemic, we have been forced to gaze upon the open wounds of the risen body. It has proved deeply uncomfortable, but we can hold our gaze because the open wounds of Christ’s Risen Body reveal a God who intimately understands our deepest concerns — because God has been there; the Word became flesh.
Why would we deny God’s invitation, and refuse the loving hand of God, who seeks to love, support, and hold each one of us through this troublesome time? Just as my mother’s love for me transformed my experience of childhood operations, so God’s immeasurable love for each one of us transforms and transfigures our journey through life, with all the joys and travails that beset us. For remember, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
Canon Tim Goode is Rector of Lee in the diocese of Southwark and a member of General Synod and of the National Disability Task Group. This article is reproduced courtesy of Via Media: viamedia.news.