“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Walking on water

In the book, The road to Daybreak Henri Nouwen relates the following story, attributed to Tolstoy.
Three Rusian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived he discovered that the monks didn't even know the Lord's Prayer. So he spent all of his time and energy teaching them the "Our Father" and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when the ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water - in fact they were running after the ship! When they reached it they cried, "Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us." The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, "But, dear brothers, how then do you pray?" They answered, "Well, we just say, 'Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!'" The bishop awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity, said, "Go back to your island and be at peace."
Nouwen then comments in regard to three handicapped alter servants at the L'Arche community where he was staying,
When Louis saw the three handicapped altar servers, this story came immediately to his mind. Like the three monks of Tolstoy, these men may not be able to remember much, but they can be holy enough to walk on water. And that says much about L'Arche.
You see, we are confused by this. Faith is so linked with knowledge and intellect by Christian society, that we cannot imagine a person of great faith not knowing the Lord's prayer by heart. How can someone be a growing, believing, faith filled Christian if they lack basic intellect? But that is the lesson of the story, isn't it? Nouwen saw the connection. We don't. The men in the story were in a place where nobody ever went. When the bishop finally did go there, he saw their limitations in regards to how he understood church should be. With his limited yet prideful understanding of "church" he attempted to change the three monks. They, in their humility took what he had to offer hoping it would help them to grow toward their Lord. But in reality, it was they who should have been the teachers. When they ran to the ship, it was to regain the knowledge they had never quite gotten, not to teach the bishop how to walk on water.
I am beginning to understand the truth of this story. The simple faith of my cognitively disabled friends outpaces my own faith in so many ways. Rather than putting them into the prideful straight jacket I call Christian faith, a straight jacket they will never be able to wear due their limitations, I should learn from them, remove my straight jacket and allow them to soften me.

He has shown thee, O man
What is good and what the Lord requires of thee
But to do justly
And to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8


1 comment:

Impossibleape said...

That is a wonderful revelation

I love the Tolstoy story and I love the truth that intellect is not the means by which we obtain saving knowledge

We evangelicals (at least the charismatic kind, of which I am one) like to thumb our noses at the elite intellectuals who undermine faith by various scholastic means of criticism and enquiry but then we make assent to relatively simple propositions the litmus test of faith.
We have exchanged intellectual snobbery for common man snobbery.
But then comes our friends (God's friends) the intellectually challenged and they say your propositions are still too intellectual. So we try to make the propositions cloth cutouts on felt boards.

But then others, like my son Joshua, come along and by their lives say that most simple of propositions are still too much. His life says that we (the most disabled)can live humbly before God and we can experience love and we can trust that love is God and love is real and we too can know God.

This, at last, is enough. Now all mankind (Joshua included)can freely know grace.

This is the revelation of extreme disability.

Otherwise we must say that those not able to assent to the dumbed-down propositions of traditional evangelical theology (or even felt cutout theology of Friendship clubs)are not human and therefore do not count in God's justice and mercy.

The absurdity of this thinking is plain to this parent of a severely disabled child.

I hope it will become clear to all my fellow evangelical believers so that we may know what it means to walk with our disabled brothers and sisters and know what it means to be justified by faith.