Monday, February 6, 2012

Mystic Theology and No-Makeup Days

I told a friend this blog would be a theological treatise on what I've spent the morning reading, but I'm afraid I may need to repent of this self-imposed expectation.  Not that what follows is not of some theological substance, but that this is not your normal "theological treatise."  In the last few weeks, I have come to more fully embrace what I think I've known for a very long--if I am anything, I am a mystical theologian.  I know for many the use of the word "mystical" is off-putting, because in our day and age such terminology usually conjures up images of witchcraft and other untoward spiritual practices.  Yet, in classic Christian theology mystic theology is associated with the exploration of God's ultimate mystery.  I find the following definition from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church rather helpful:

Language connected with ‘mystery’ was widely used in the early Church, often in a fairly routine way; the use of such language depends on the conviction that Christian doctrine and liturgy involve matters known only by revelation, which are incomprehensible to, or which need to be shielded from profanation by, outsiders and those insufficiently purified by faith and moral conversion. The sacred words of Scripture and the deeds of God recorded in Scripture and enacted in the Eucharist (Lord's Supper, Communion in modern Protestant contexts) contain a ‘mystic’ significance, into which believers can be progressively initiated by Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. The mystery of God remains mysterious even in its revelation, so that we need to ‘hear the quietness’ of Jesus as well as receiving His word." (Ignatius)

For the sake of this post, I make the point about leaning toward mystic theology to indicate the direction from which I am approaching the reading I did this morning from Pope Benedict XVI's The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God (referred to from now on as GJC).  The way I take in and chew on Benedict's words is not the same as how others may choose, and that is perfectly acceptable.  I merely prepare you, reader whom I value, for the experience and limitations of my own interpretation.  

One of the most precious points in Benedict's treatment of Jesus, God the Son, is his examination of the childhood of Jesus.  Rather than examine the meager writings in the Gospels attesting to events in the childhood of Jesus, Benedict discusses what it means to be a child and how Jesus' treatment of children later in life is indicative of the value He places on children.  What stands out to me is Benedict's discussion of what Jesus inherited from His mother Mary, not only flesh and blood but also "the inheritance of his ancestors," meaning "he accepted in himself the whole winding path that leads back fro Mary to Abraham and ultimately back to Adam." By bearing "within himself the burden of this history, he transformed it by his own life and suffering." (GJC 50)  As a modern-day Protestant, I find it refreshing to hear how Jesus redeemed the past, as well as the present in which He lived and future generations.  We have a tendency to discuss salvation from a Jesus-onward mindset, but by taking the form of a child who was raised within a certain culture with certain rituals and traditions and ways of thinking developed over hundreds and thousands of years, Jesus shed light on that which was good and condemned that which was sinful in His culture of origin.  If He had come as a fully grown man, Jesus would not have experienced what it is to grow up and internalize the ethnic elements of Jewish society, so He could not have intimately known and therefore brought redemption to the history of God's people.  

Later in His life, after the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus brings visibility to the idea of being a child in his elevation/blessings of the poor.  Benedict makes the point that "this is no romantic exaltation of poverty...rather, what is concerned here is the very depth of what it is to be human. 'Being poor' lets us see something of what 'being a child' means: a child possesses nothing of his own." (GJC 52)  The intent here is not to admonish those who have possessions, but to drive home the point that to enter into the Kingdom of God, possessions must not control one's being.  Being a child, maintaining poverty of spirit, means continual dependence on a God Who holds the world in the palm of His hands.  The human tendency towards independence of God for the sake of wealth is not valued in God's economy.  

I feel like the topic of God's economy is often expounded in our churches, which then turn around and appeal for money from pulpit.  (Now, who is it that needs to let go of dependence on wealth?) With such an example set for us, how is it that we are supposed to be like children when even our churches are hurting for money and seem to be dependent on riches in order to do God's work?  Honestly, this is where my inner mystic rejoices at Benedict's words:

     "the astonishment in man must not wither away, this capacity for astonishment and for listening that does not merely inquire into the usefulness of things, but hears the harmony of the spheres and rejoices precisely at that which does not serve the practical purposes of man." (GJC 53)

Astonishment.  What astonishes you?  What strikes the very heart of your being?  What has no worldly value but feeds your very soul in an inexplicable but wondrous manner?  Whatever it is, that is the beginning of "being a child."  

A couple years ago when my niece was 3 years old or so, I was over at my mother-in-law's house while she was keeping my niece.  I think it must have been a Sunday because I was dressed up more than normal and my hair wasn't in a ponytail. But, even so, I had made no special efforts at putting on make-up or really dressing up, and at the time I was longing to put on some jeans and get dressed down again.  As my niece, my mother-in-law and I were hanging out in the kitchen, my niece turned and with a smile said, "Noni, doesn't Aunt Lisa look beautiful today?"  I don't know what it was about how I looked that day, but I knew, to me, I didn't look like anything special.  But, my wonderful child-like niece saw something wonderful and called it by name.  How I looked didn't have any usefulness to her nor did she really care that I didn't have any eyeliner on and my eyes probably had bags underneath them.  She was astonished and took great pleasure in sharing her astonishment with others.  

May child-like astonishment fill your day, and may it be a gateway into the mystery of God, so that through the mundane, the beautiful may be found.  Amen and Amen!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Late Night Adventures in the Land of Leprechauns, Unicorns, and Handicap Vans

When Justin and I started dating, Justin had this phrase he would use anytime the wheelchair made things awkward in "able-bodied" situations, "Handicapped people are like leprechauns, the tooth fairy or unicorns--people don't think we really exist."  And you know, it's amazing how true that phrase is in certain situations.  One of my favorites is when we're walking through a crowded hallway in a mall and people practically trip over Justin's chair because they weren't watching where they were going and then give him/us accusatory glances, as if to say, "How could you get in my way, person that I didn't think really existed or I wouldn't have run into your big metal chair!!??"

Well, last night we had one of those adventures that can only happen in the "fictional" world of the handicapped.  It started out like any other Tuesday evening in the life of the Hancocks.  After being at school a full day and working at church for several hours, it was finally 9:00 p.m. and time to go home.  Justin is attending a class on C.S. Lewis at a church close to campus, so he joined me at school for the afternoon and evening.  When his class let out, the first sign of trouble arose.  The wires connected to the automated door on our "pimped out" handicap van jumped the track, so to speak, and made it necessary to manually encourage the door to open so that the ramp could extend.  Now, though a sign of potential hazard, this was not overly worrisome because we have an appointment with the Handicap Van Mechanics (wonderful people!) on Friday, so we just need the door to continue opening and closing, somehow, until then.  So, we go on our merry way, with the only real complaint on our minds being the feeling of hunger developing in our stomachs since dinner was at least 3 hours ago.  With thoughts of popcorn and coffee filling our heads, we park at the apartment, I get out to further encourage the door to open, and I come face-to-face with a highly unfortunate circumstance--the wires have become so tangled the door will only open halfway, blocking the ramp from extending at all, and Justin is summarily stuck in the van.  One of the greatest travails found in the Land of Leprechauns, Unicorns, and Handicapped People--the failure of one piece of technology equals a major hurtle to the continuation of "normal life."  So, here we are at 9:30, sitting in the parking lot feet from our apartment with it's nice pantry, refrigerator and bed, and my husband is unable to get out of the van, at all!

Thankfully, having faced similar situations in the past, we had an ever-so-slight hope that the local handicap van shop has an emergency phone line for times such as these, and Praise Jesus! We were correct!  The downside--the handicap van shop is in Mesquite, Tx, 30 minutes from our apartment, and the mechanic on call who was willing to come out to us lives at least an hour from our apartment.  Wonderful people that they are, though, we finally arranged to meet the office administrator and her husband, who was going to cut out the nasty wires according to directions given to him over the phone by the head mechanic.  Granted, we had no idea how successful this venture would be or what state it would leave the van door/ramp mechanism in, but if it meant we could get Justin out of the car without asking him to attempt Rodney Dangerfield-like jumps out of the van with his wheelchair, we were willing to give it a shot.  Since it is not after 10 p.m., I filled the gas tank up, bought some peanut butter M&Ms for the road (because yes, we were still hungry!), and off to Mesquite we went.

Let me just say, you will never meet nicer people than the people of Advanced Mobility in Mesquite, Tx.  These are people who work day in and day out performing a very specialized service for a very distinct group of people.  They could charge whatever they want and treat us however they want because they are one of the only shops in East Texas that sells and provides maintenance for wheelchair accessible vans.  But, to their good credit, they treat us with dignity, respect, and kindness that is difficult to find in a world that doesn't often act like the disabled exist.  The two people who met us were concerned about Justin being trapped in the van and about whether I would be able to handle the van if I needed to pull out the ramp manually.  And you know, everything worked okay.  The only part we have to do manually with the wires cut out is help the door close.  Otherwise, everything works as well as it ever has.

I know that every person has moments of crisis and problems to deal with, but the unique nature of the kinds of problems that come with life in the disabled context are not only difficult to understand, but are also nearly impossible to foresee without firsthand experience and/or a large dose of empathy.  As I look back at last night, I have to laugh at the way God provided for us.  It may not seem like God was in the experience at all, seeing as Justin seemed to be hopelessly stuck in the for who knows how long.  But, to look deeper, He provided in extraordinary ways by enabling me to finish my homework earlier in the day so I had not pressing homework to do last night, by making the temporary fix so easy compared to past experiences with the breakdown of the ramp, and by providing Justin and I some unexpected time together in which we discussed all sorts of normal conversation topics, like Nietzsche's madman, Chesterton's Orthodoxy, and C.S. Lewis's Abolition of Man.  (Maybe not typical for some couples, but the best kinds of conversation by our standards.)  You know, life on this side of the divide is pretty much the same as in the "real world"; you laugh, you cry, and the leprechauns really don't live at the end of the rainbow, because they're too busy guarding the Tooth Fairy's rose garden from the unicorns, of course.

Seriously, though, at the end of the day when the wheelchair is turned off and everything is still, it is comforting to know that we can say with all the saints who have gone before and come after, with all their varying abilities and disabilities: God is good, all the time and all the time, God is good.