Tag Archives: disability

24 June: A planned pregnancy?

Convent of the Visitation, Israel, NAIB.

Was Elizabeth’s pregnancy planned? The idea of an old couple, an old childless couple, planning a pregnancy sounds crazy, but of course it was not their idea, Someone Else had planned it, they had to make His plan their own.

Zachary’s mutism was perhaps a gift, not a punishment; time to reflect, writing the essentials on a clay tablet, time for patience. Did he need nine months of patience after all those years of waiting, of prayer, of resignation? Perhaps he did. This time he had the promise visibly being fulfilled in Elizabeth’s swelling womb; she herself was filled with joyful acceptance and sang when her cousin appeared, complete with her own unlooked-for but now expected little one.

Zachary it was who had the task of telling everyone the name of his son: his loss of speech seems to have led his neighbours to believe he had lost his mind as well. John was certainly a gift for his parents, but also a gift for the people of Israel.  But caring for his parents in old age? No: the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel. (Luke 2.80)

God used Angels to take the Good News of John and Jesus to their parents, parents who were together and who loved and supported each other. But sometimes pregnancy can seem like a disaster, not a gift. I’d like to share these words of Susannah Black which are from the transcript of a discussion with Paul Mommsen and Zito Madu at The PloughCast. Ms Black is exploring some of what being pro-life means, and trying to get away from the discussion being focused on the right of the mother versus the right of the unborn.

Tap on the link for the full transcript.

One of the transformations of ways that I’ve gone about being pro-life has been to move from a discussion of the right to life, away from that and away from a rights-based discussion to just like, “What is the good here? Is there a good in the existence of human beings? Is there a good in a human baby however and wherever, whether or not that baby was planned and is that a good that we can do our best to make room for?”

It’s not about whether or not abortion should be legal, it’s about what it means to be a woman who has a body that can carry children, what it means to find yourself pregnant, what it means to find something happening in your life that you did not plan, and what it means to honor that gift even if it’s a really difficult gift to honor.

I guess one of the things that I am committed to as a pro-life person, is doing my best to, as a woman and as a friend and politically as well, making it easier for women to experience, even unexpected pregnancies as something that they can say yes to, and as something that they can experience as gifts.

Susannah Black

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Zooming All Souls

St Nicholas holding his church at Barefrestone, first home of L’Arche Kent.

We in L’Arche Kent zoomed our All Souls’ Remembrance Service. With my internet connection on the blink, I was not present for it all, but the stories I heard of people I had known and lived with, as well as those who had joined the community when I was less involved, were moving.

I was moved to smiles and laughter, but after my connection declined one last time, I was left feeling outraged but not with my net provider. My connection was restored by the evening and a new hub is on its way. No, it was the way so many of my friends had been treated before I met them.

Many people born with epilepsy or a learning disability were, before and after the Second World War, locked away in rural hospitals or asylums, sometimes housing 1,000 or more. Drugs to control seizures were not available, so people were herded away from society, ‘it’s better for them’, their parent were told.

Time and again this morning we heard how people had blossomed on leaving ‘care’. I had seen and worked in such places and saw how dehumanising they were. Not even personal clothing, but heavy duty corduroy trousers and jackets, twill denim shirts, navy blue jumpers, all rough from being washed on the highest setting in industrial machines. Ablutions in troughs with cold water. Many by then on modern drugs, as much to control behaviour as seizures.

One young man with Downs turned out to be a gifted, self-taught-by-ear pianist, learning on a ward instrument. He was used to raise charitable funds but remained on the ward. An elderly man had disappeared for three days, a cause of panic as the countryside was searched in vain. He had been sitting in front of a foxes’ lair, watching the cubs at play; the animals accepted his presence. I was not the only member of staff who wondered why he was in the asylum.

Neither of these men joined L’Arche Kent, but the men and women who came brought their own gifts that had been buried for 20, 30, or more years. Artistic talent, gardening, hard work, sense of humour, dress sense, loyalty, persistence, sensitivity, loving care, faith.

L’Arche and other organisations allow people with disabilities to flourish within society and within the church – I won’t say churches, distinctions between us blur into the background with L’Arche. But if an unborn baby is found to have Downs Syndrome, doctors will recommend abortion and the same for any other perceived disability. How many people are dismissed as not quite human in 2020? Migrants for a start? What do we do about it?

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1 October, Season of Creation III: Forty Years On.

Logo of the International Year of Disabled Persons 1981

1981; not all readers will remember it, but we called it IYDP, the United Nations’ Year of Disabled Persons. It came to mind the other day when we saw workers making dropped kerbs to allow wheelchair users – and of course pram pushers – to cross the road more easily. We had campaigned for these forty years ago. That’s progress!

It’s surely part of our work as co-creators of God’s world to ensure that every human being is able to be fully part of the family of humanity, the family of God. So this post is appropriate in this season.

The UN Enable web page says that the theme of IYDP was “full participation and equality”, defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development.

Christian churches should be showing the way forward, and indeed there has been progress. Buildings with steps were once the norm, if only to keep the mud at bay, but even sensitive old places like Canterbury Cathedral have been able to address the access problems successfully.

BUT ARE WE OPEN ENOUGH? I was pleased to see recently the Parish Guide to Disability published by the Catholic Disability Fellowship who advise the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. They adapted a pamphlet of the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, Diocese of
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania USA, updating it for British use.

While I have to say that most of what the Guide says we were saying back in the 1980s, it is all worth repeating. And I hope never to hear again of priests refusing sacraments or catechesis to persons with disabilities. What is encouraging is the emphasis on the mission of every Christian to witness to faith: the first page cites Pope Francis:

The people of God: “A living community, one that supports, accompanies,
integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, where everyone
learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others.”

Pope Francis (Bulgaria – May 6, 2019)

The Guide will help this to happen; the checklist at the end is a valuable tool that summarises the aims and policies described, and enables communities to discern what’s going well, where improvements are possible, and where they need help to grow. Every parish could do better; this Guide will help – if it is read and shared. Find it here.

Maurice Billingsley, sometime Chair, 81 Group for Disabled People in the Church.

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26 April: None but the brave, 2.

Image result for road signs old people crossing

Of course yesterday’s tale turns out to be a bit more complicated than that, but there is some reassurance in the unfolding story.

Twice more I saw Mrs K in Station Road, once on the arm of a young man, the other escorted by a young woman who was just settling her into her chair as I entered the shop; I had the impression that this was not the first time she’d performed this service. Mrs K once again got her shopping list out, written on a tiny sheet torn from a spiral note pad. A different assistant began quartering the aisles and was soon finding her groceries, while the security man walked across to greet her.

Once again, thank you to the staff of our little local supermarket!

Then a couple of weeks after writing yesterday’s post, I was chatting to a neighbour who is an Anglican, and he asked me what I knew about Jane from our church: was she safe? Jane – with the little dog? I knew that she was ill indoors. Not that Jane – he described Mrs K in a few words and a gesture. ‘I always call her Mrs K, I said, seeing her as the generation before me, and to be addressed formally till asked to do otherwise.’

Neighbour Nick had gone home with her, seen that she was up two flights of stairs, nowhere to keep a walking trolley, no way she could get it upstairs, what did the church know about it?

Plenty, as it happened; I was told by another old lady that Mrs K is fiercely independent, gets a taxi to Mass, attends a few meetings, is in regular contact with her two children and has no intention of moving, thank you all very much indeed.

She is clean, rational (except about her personal safety, perhaps) and feeds herself, is no doubt the despair of her daughters, but living her life and faith as she chooses. Deprived of her own home unnecessarily she would not be happy. It’s not time for that yet.

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25 April: None but the brave.

Image result for road signs old people crossing

Often and often I’d seen her, on the opposite side of the road, making for the little supermarket, walking stick in hand, eyes fixed ten yards in front of her, seemingly intent on the journey rather than the goal. It would not have been appropriate to call out a greeting, and I was not at all sure she would remember me from church.

Today a man was talking to her as I drew abreast, but she seemed to be dismissing him. But no sooner had he gone his way than she seemed to be staggering. I crossed and greeted her by name: ‘Mrs K, you seem to be in difficulty.’ Enough to win her confidence, she took my arm and we made a somewhat erratic progress to the shop. ‘I always get a taxi back.’

No sooner were we through the door than an assistant had scooped her away and into a chair. Mrs K got her shopping list out and the young woman was soon finding her groceries, and no doubt arranged for the taxi to come and take her to her door.

Let us be grateful that shops can still be human-friendly and serve with a smile; thank you Flavia! But I also want to salute the sheer bravery of Mrs K, stepping out on a cold morning, facing the danger of falling or losing the energy to make it to the shop (and then what?)

There are many people living with disability or weakness who nonetheless are witnesses to life and indeed to something beyond earthly life. Keeping going, day after day, can be disheartening, and if there is nothing to look forward to, then why bother?

But, we are Easter People. At the end of John’s Gospel we read how Peter saith to Jesus: Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith to him: So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee? follow thou me. (John 21:20-21) Jesus and Peter were talking about John, the beloved disciple, but his words apply to most of us Christians today: we are called, not to martyrdom, but to remain until he comes, watching like the wise bridesmaids, and to follow him to the wedding feast whenever he calls us.

 

 

 

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31 March, Desert XXXIII: It’s good to be here.

Christina has kindly allowed us to use an extract from her book, which we thoroughly recommend; find it on Amazon or through the publisher’s link below. But for now, take a step into her personal desert.

The yearly losses of strength and abilities – lifting up my arms, feeding myself, brushing my own teeth, breathing without labour – these are the hardest things to bear … The circumstances of my life altered my childhood, undermined my teenage years, and rendered me into an adult who is completely dependent upon others for everyday survival. My body has been wracked with the pain of angry weeping, my bones crying out with shuddering grief, and my mind seized with the heartache of my life. And yet …

I am not bitter.

I pine for independence, for a family of my own, and I mourn the physical losses, the sickness, the shortened lifespan. And yet … I am very glad to be here.

Why am I glad? I ask myself. Even I wonder at how I can be the generally content, grateful and joyful person that I am. Over and over I have asked myself why I, cripple that I am, continue to have a deep love for life.

Why?

Because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.*

* See Psalm 139:14.

Christina Chase, It’s Good to be here, Sophia Institute Press, 2019, pp6-7.
https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/its-good-to-be-here – to order the book from the publisher.

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March 29: “Not my will”, Desert XXX.

 Christina Chase has kindly allowed us to share her recent post, ‘Agony’. After reading these opening paragraphs please follow the link to her blog. Christina would have written especially for us this Lent, but she has been busy with her new book, ‘It’s good to be here’, which is available via Amazon or from the publishers, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire. This photograph shows her before the crucifix in her room, taken by her father, Dan Chase.

How many times have I desperately longed for my life of progressive disability to be different? For countless hours upon hours I have agonized, with teenaged hormones raging, wanting a different path, begging to be released from the nevers of my life, from the crippling confines of my disease. Far too weak and dependent for romantic relationships, I deeply desired the possibility of a husband, of children, of a home of my own, painfully frustrated and sad that it could not be.

In sleepless nights even now, I suffer the agony of simply wanting to swing my legs down from the bed and stand up. I don’t want to be dependent upon my aging parents and wake them in the middle of the night for my comfort, no matter how willing they may be to assist me. So I lie still in the dark as my tears sting and burn my eyes, and I can’t wipe them away with my own hands.

I don’t want my disability, this difficult burden of sorrow and painful loss — I don’t want disease to lay upon me and upon the backs and hearts of the people whom I love.

Follow the link to read the rest of Christina’s post and more about her book.

https://authorchristinachase.com/2020/03/06/agony/

Sophia Instiutte Link:

https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/its-good-to-be-here

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9 January, Book Review: My book for Lent 2020, ‘It’s good to be here’.

christina cover.jpg

It’s Good To Be Here by Christina Chase

Review by Maurice Billingsley

Regular readers will remember the thought-provoking posts that our friend Christina Chase has allowed us to share from her own blog, which you can visit from the link. You will understand how I had been waiting to see this book, and I was by no means disappointed on reading it. Christina weaves autobiography and a profound incarnational theology with a love of language and clarity of expression. This will be my Lent book for 2020.

We were led, in my pre-Vatican II childhood, to look upon Jesus as the perfect human being: ‘Little children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he.’ Our teachers apparently forgot that it was at his Transfiguration that the Apostles saw something more and Peter said, ‘It’s good to be here.’

There are those who would contradict Chase’s assertion that it is good for her to be here, since she is profoundly disabled – she readily uses the non-PC term ‘crippled’ – with a wasting disease that ought to have killed her years ago, and that renders her unable to feed, dress, or care for herself, depending on others for such needs.

But Christina has undergone her own transfiguration; this is her story. She had no need of a Franciscan stigmata, the wounded body was hers from birth, but she has had to come to terms with the human condition in her own self, with all the frustrations writ large. And so she can write: ‘The one astonishing fact of life is that suffering, like disease, war, murder, and abuse, cannot destroy the gift that God Almighty gives, because real love never fails.’ (p18) It’s good to be here; to be human here, as Christ was. After his Baptism, ‘He stood, rising to inhale deeply and shake the dripping wetness out of his hair and off of his drenched body.’ (p38)

And this from a woman who frequently finds breathing difficult, who cannot shake her head to dry her hair! This is not a book to buy out of pity for a ‘poor, disabled woman’, but for its deep insights into the divine light that wills to brighten our days. All our days. Christina’s vision is eternal: ‘What will life be like then?’ (p124) The glimmer of an answer is to be found in our earthly, earthy lives: it’s good to be here, breathing, getting wet, enjoying the sacrament of everyday in the wondrous life God has given us.

This will be my Lent book for 2020.

You can order it now from the publisher, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire, or  their UK agents, Gracewing, or via Amazon .

 

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17 October: Being practical about Mission

L'arche procession1

L’Arche is a worldwide federation of people, with and without learning disabilities, working together for a world where all belong.

This photo was taken in Canterbury Cathedral when L’Arche Kent was celebrating 40 years of life, and L’Arche itself was marking its half century. Making enough space for everyone is vital and the process is on-going. A world where all belong is a challenge: L’Arche lives that challenge, and in doing so witnesses that it is possible.

To remain faithful to the mission the structures of each community, and the federations which link them, are reviewed regularly to give a new mandate for community life. Here are some points from L’Arche UK’s new mandate.

L’ARCHE UK MANDATE July 2019 – July 2025
Partners in Mission, building a more human society

1. Building unity around our Mission
The greatest insight that L’Arche has to offer arises from our emphasis on community and mutually transforming relationships. Therefore we will:
 Create and celebrate new ways to live out our Mission in response to a 21st century call for L’Arche in the UK.
 Partner other organisations to impact on the social and political concerns of wider society and be a beacon for the learning disability sector.
 Deepen our connection to our founding Christian tradition and live out the spirituality of L’Arche more confidently. This spirituality embraces people of all faiths and none and all who are aligned with our Mission.
 Vigorously pursue the four dimensions of community, spirituality, service and outreach through our service to society and through service provision.
2. Partners in the Mission
People with and without learning disabilities are together partners in the Mission. A vital
element in this partnership on the national level is the National Speaking Council. Therefore we will:
 Strengthen the purpose and voice of the National Speaking Council with proper
resources.
 Offer people with learning disabilities opportunities to impact more powerfully on our society through employment and quality day services.
 Become experts in accessible communication, both locally within our communities and nationally.
 Ensure that people with and without learning disabilities engage in outreach together.
3. Resourcing the Mission
We need to be well resourced for the journey. Therefore we will:
 Agree and implement a model of effective governance that truly serves our Mission by ensuring business and financial viability.
 Work towards greater Mission sustainability by increasing our fundraising capability and reviewing our financial management.
 Develop our culture so that all our communities are competent and effective in the four dimensions.
Find out more about L’Arche and its mission here:

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12 October, Month of Mission: A worthless servant in Algeria.

taize algeria

Another visit to Algeria and a taste of a prophetic mission.

My name is Vincent Somboro. I am a Malian, a dogon from the Diocese of Mopti, right in the centre of West Africa, and I am preparing to be a Missionary of Africa. After studying Philosophy for 3 years in Burkina Faso, then completing my novitiate year in Zambia, I was appointed to a community of Missionaries of Africa in Ghardaia, Algeria, for a two year lived-experience of Mission. I have been here for one year now. Algeria is a Muslim country and religion is absolutely central to its daily life. I count myself very lucky to be working amongst a people for whom God and religion are still so important. As Christians here, our life is one of discreet dialogue. It can happen that I talk with certain people about religion, but this would only be with people who want to convert me to Islam. I build my life as a Christian on Our Lord’s words, “whatever you do to one of these little ones, you do to me!” and still I remain “a worthless servant who is only doing his duty.”

I live this life in different places. In a library; in a centre for handicapped children; in meeting migrants and anyone else the Lord puts in my path. In the library: as well as being the librarian in charge of books, I give extra help to both children and adults who are learning English or French. It is really the only place where I can meet Algerians: coming into contact with Algerian society in a more informal way.

Once a week I play sports with the children in a centre for the handicapped. This simple interaction, being with the children, with no agenda other than being there with them, brings me great pleasure.

Being a Malian, an African, is also a great advantage when it comes to contact with migrants. Meeting migrants affords me a marvellous opportunity to serve my African brothers and sisters. This is a challenge which preoccupies me greatly, and it is doubly useful: in the context of Algeria, I am able to be both a missionary and a prophet.

I am a missionary because the migrants really feel at home when they come to our house. A confrere and I, between us, speak Moore, Hausa and Bambara. This covers most of West Africa. As fellow Africans, we are living the same reality in Algeria as they are.

I am a prophet because, as an African, I yearn for our home countries to come up with structures to help our young people, helping them struggle against famine and war, and against the desire driving our youth to get to Europe no matter the cost. I feel troubled and challenged when I see young people crossing deserts to get to Algeria, hoping to cross the seas to Italy and Spain. I see the religious and cultural divides, the injustice and the racism that they encounter. I thank God for my experience here.

Vincent Somboro.

From the White Fathers Magazine, February 2017.

Taizé celebration in Tlemcen

https://www.missionariesofafrica.org.uk/

 

 

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