Theology and Dis/Ability

It is my deep feeling that the reality of the world in which we live is characterized by inadequate existential metaphors of fractured-ness and distance, though not of utter brokenness and separation. We do not have the capacity to touch or begin to understand ourselves or our neighbor without the radical connectivity of God’s transcendence; somehow and despite all the distance between and within persons, reconciliation and mutual love is possible.

We glimpse and perceive God in this world because of its fractured-ness.  It is through hearing God’s voice in indictments of our own privilege, feeling God’s hand in our own creation and in affirmations of our humanity, receiving God in compassionate acts that seek to restore the emotional and relational fractures this world inflicts upon us… this voice, this hand, this compassion all are received because the world we live in is imperfect and in need of God’s voice, action, and love.

To locate this fractured-ness (in part) in bodies and in physical and mental ability is mostly frustrating. Too often, we perceive physical or mental (dis)ability as a falling short of perfection or as conditions in need of “fixing.”  Literal or uninspired readings of Scripture too easily allow us to perpetuate this undervaluing differences of bodies and minds.  All I may venture to do when confronted with this ubiquitous frustration is to affirm our bodies and minds as imago Dei and to chance asserting that the perceived fractured-ness of our minds and bodies is not an absence of wholeness or a state of incompletion, but a theological reality that indicts of our spatial and physical conceptions of wholeness.

For all that society likes to throw about words like “normal” and “abnormal,” these are not quantitative measurements of the reality of the world. “Normal” is not “normative;” there are far more adults in this country who exhibit symptoms of a kind of psychological disability than do not. Though the translation is imperfect, if we are able to perceive the world not as a field of perfectly “normal” minds in which “abnormal” people dot and mar the landscape, can we begin to see physical difference similarly, and can we begin to see the landscape not as one of perfected bodies dotted by “disabled” bodies? Indicted for idolizing hegemony of so-called physical “wholeness,” can we vision a different idea of wholeness that does not seek homogeneity of ability?

Often in “healing” pericopae, Jesus is said to be moved to compassion. What does compassion mean in cases of physical or mental difference? How are compassion and pity different? I would venture to say that compassion exists between equals: I journey with you because our destinies are inevitably tied to the well-being of each other, not because I want to help you. Pity presumes that I have the the ability to condescend to help you, to give you a purpose. Kenosis, or self-emptying, cannot be toward condescension (as if we are somehow spatially or physically above another child of God), but toward an emptying of one’s self of all prejudice and pretense, and of venturing to admit that one’s perception of reality is not only wrong, but harmful to the very fabric of creation that God is attempting to restore to a wholeness that we have not yet been able to imagine.


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