Tag Archives: disability

Veil of Tears 103: Incarcerated

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So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained.” Genesis 39:20 NLT

Today is Nelson Mandela Day (18th July). Whenever I read about people like Joseph who were imprisoned on false charges or unfair accusations or lies, or even those who have committed small crimes but been given horrendous sentences, I think of those 27 years of imprisonment that Mr Mandela underwent. He must have, like Joseph, and like Jeremiah in his cistern, have wondered if he would die there, the hope of release must have seemed forlorn and unlikely.

Others of us are imprisoned in different ways of course, in abusive relationships, tough marriages or in bodies that make us feel less than human. Many of my friends with severe M.E. are living in a world of one room, weak as they are, unable to feed or wash themselves, let alone get outside. I see my wheelchair as an enabling thing, but then, I am not confined to it all day like so many people, who perhaps feel imprisoned.

Still others of course, feel imprisoned by debt, by circumstances, by their pasts, or even by guilt and regret. There are so many things that can make us feel that desire for liberation from the chains that hold us back. And many of my fellow Christians will proclaim that by Jesus’ blood we are free, we are saved from all these bondages. And that is undoubtedly true in a whole heap of ways. But knowing that is not always tantamount to securing the tangible reality of it. And some of us are kept in our small or difficult circumstances, indeed in our real prisons or penitentiaries, for a very long time, long after we have come to faith. This is not because the power of God is not working in our lives, but because it is working unseen. Invisible miracles happen in prisons of various kinds every minute of every day.

Rays of sunshine can penetrate the heart wherever we are. Hope can live in the most arid and desperate conditions, and faith can flourish in small and impoverished circumstances. There is fruit still there to be borne. How many times do we hear of prisoners finding Jesus whilst behind bars? And how can we deny that miracles happened in that small cell on Robyn Island, where a peaceful, gentle and wise humility was created from a passionate rebel heart? If we give our yes to love, to God, then powerful transformations can occur in these cells of isolation. The desert fathers and mothers understood this well, self-imposing constrictions, as monks and nuns continue to do today.

Indeed, as citizens of heaven we might well say that our very bodies and our present circumstances are our cells, fidelity to which, as Abba Moses counselled, was the way to spiritual knowledge. “Go, sit in your cell,” he would say, “And your cell will teach you everything.”

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 91: Misdiagnosed

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You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” Job 13:4 NIV

Over my 20 years of chronic illness I have known a great many “worthless physicians” I can tell you.   I’ve been ignored, disbelieved or told to go away. I’ve been told “I think it’s M.E. but I don’t believe in it” and after a dreadfully difficult journey to London, a neurologist at a top hospital said, “I don’t know what they sent you to me for. I can refer you to a psychiatrist if you like.” Even the most sympathetic doctors that I have seen have been able to do nothing more than shrug their shoulders. “Well I don’t have a magic wand,” one GP told me over and over again every time I went to him to ask for help. After my worst relapse so far, when I was in terrible pain and every movement was desperately hard and exhausting, a doctor, clearly exasperated and to my shock, not believing me, told me and my worried parents, “Well if you need a wheelchair, you should look in the Yellow Pages.”

And everyone who has this illness, or yet to be properly classified/researched/so-called “invisible” illnesses and diseases which don’t conveniently present with easily analysed bloodwork or purple spots, has numerous similar stories. It is exasperating, heart-breaking, soul-destroying. Because we go to the doctor when we don’t feel well, and we expect some help. That’s not so strange, is it?

Likewise, Job was visited by his supposedly wise, spiritually mature friends, and all they did was give him the religious equivalent of my doctors. “You must have done something terrible, best repent,” is their general message. And I’m sorry to say, this is the same message that passes as spiritual wisdom in many churches today. Seen it, been told it, been prayed for about it. “Hidden sin” it’s sometimes called, and the hurtful assumption behind it is that you’ve brought the illness upon yourself by doing something sinful. That, in other words, it is, on some conveniently inscrutable level, your own fault.

Do we not think that the sick and disabled are suffering enough without being told to repent on their dungheaps by people who are clearly (because fit and healthy) so much better, cleaner, more right with God? This is holier than thou taken to painful extremes. And the main reason it happens is pure ignorance. The church generally shies away from a theology of suffering, especially the Protestant church. We do not teach on sickness, disability, illness, healing or suffering anywhere near enough in my view. Nor do we understand the value of perseverance and faithfulness in prayer.

Consequently, people latch on to some very odd ideas and are buying into the belief that because God is good and wants us all well (I agree) then he must want us well now whilst we are being prayed for, and so if nothing happens, it cannot be God’s fault or will, it cannot be the person praying’s fault, it must be yours. On top of your physical or mental or emotional suffering (usually illness and disability contain all three of course, since we are holistic beings) we have lots of lovely guilt piled on top too.

But there are some good doctors, some godly doctors, some wise preachers and healers, who know that things can take time, that patience, compassion, listening, forbearance, endurance, persevering prayer and empathy are tools of the kingdom. I had one GP be unfailingly kind, though he admitted he did not know how to help me. That honesty and belief was very precious, and my current GP is also sympathetic, though apart from blood tests every few years, till more research is done, there is not really any help available. But as Job discovered, it is loving encounter which is more healing than theology and half-baked theories.

A Carmelite Priory I occasionally stay at when well enough has a special Day of Celebration sharing in the Gifts of People with Disabilities today, with creative workshops, sensory prayer and Mass. And in August they will also have a Pilgrimage of the Sick with the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes. That seems like a pretty healthy (pun intended) balance of things. We celebrate the things that suffering brings whilst at the same time acknowledging that prayer for healing is a good thing. It is not that we do not expect answers, or indeed miracles, but that we live out a theology (an orthopraxy if you like) of trust and acceptance. Those of us who await healing (whether in this life or the next) are limbic people, and we have a lot to give and a lot to share and say, if anyone finds themselves able to listen.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay, candles at Lourdes