For those that read my blog, the following is a talk (sermon) I gave recently, which includes the story I told about my sister in my last post.) I felt I needed to say that so you don't think I've totally gone blank in the head.
Last weekend Cathy and I were at Family Camp. This was a diocese-wide event led by the Canon for Children’s Ministries, Jana Sundin. The weekend was a beautiful experience in the Prescott pines at Chapel Rock, the diocese camp and retreat center.
The theme was “Unplug and Connect.” The idea was to unplug from the distractions of the world and connect with our family, our friends, and with God. Jana planned a wonderful weekend where all who attended had plenty of opportunities to unplug and connect.
Those who attended represented the lovely diversity of the Episcopal church; multi-generational families, kids of all ages, grandparents with their grandchildren, single moms, single dads, bi-racial families, just about everyone was represented.
I had so many fantastic experiences, but there isn’t time to share all of them. But there was one particular moment that especially captured my imagination. Saturday night, Jana planned what she called a “silly talent” show, meaning anyone, any age, could be silly or serious; tell silly jokes, put on a silly skit, or sing a serious song—and all of those things happened that night.
The final “act” was a single dad and his two-year-old daughter. The duo sang some heavenly spiritual songs from the Jewish tradition. As a finale, the young dad and his daughter danced. As he lifted her above his head, she laughed and giggled as he twirled her around.
In that moment, I saw myself twirling my own children above my head. And I saw my son twirling his sons above his head. And then I saw my dad twirling my sister above his head. And then I saw my granddad twirling my mother through the air. And then I could see my grandsons dancing with their children and twirling them above their heads. Then I began to see the relatives of the other people at the retreat dancing with their ancient/future ones. And then there were people of all the nations dancing with their children. In that moment I was caught up in the synchronicity of timelessness. In that moment I felt at one with the divine and all of God’s creation. In that moment, I felt love and hope.
Living in our world today, it can be difficult, at times, to feel like there is any love and hope to be found. Indiscriminate violence and hateful murders use to be something that happened in far away countries—now it happens in the streets of America on a daily basis. Hope seems hard to come by.
I think hope is the promise of Abraham’s vision. (Genesis 18:1-10) He was meditating under the oak where he had built an altar to God. In his meditation three men appeared to him. He insisted that they sit with him while he washed their feet and prepared a meal for them. Abraham sat with the three strangers and listened to them. In the synchronicity of the moment he heard that something new, something unimaginable was going to be born into this world—that something was hope.
We can experience hope when we entertain the visions of the impossible; when we think outside the boxes of accepted reality—it is then that hope becomes a possibility.
Hope becomes possible when we entertain the stranger, welcome them into our home, wash their feet, feed them, and listen to their story. At those moments the impossible becomes possible—in that moment, despair is transmuted into hope.
After the recent release of violence on our world, I was depressed and that drove me into the Black Sun of silence. I felt that all hope was gone. I knew then I had to go see my sister. I was sure she would know how to bring healing in to our broken world.
Dinah, at 61, is the oldest known living person in the Arizona who has Prader-Willi Syndrome. She is mentally and physically handicapped—she also suffered brain damage that resulted from a high fever when she was two weeks old. The temperature affected her ability to speak—over the years her vocabulary has increased to about 50 words.
When we sit at dinner, she is mostly silent. When I ask her questions I have to watch for answers that are found in a raised eyebrow, the tilt of her head, a smile or a frown, a gesture, and if I’m lucky, a word or two, some of which are impossible to understand.
That night the conversation turned to her friend, Brent. Jo, Dinah’s beloved care-giver, filled in the gaps of my sister’s story about this man who lives in another house for handicapped men. Brent has multiple-scoliosis—he’s paraplegic and can’t speak.
When they go to his house, Dinah sits with Brent, holds his hand, strokes his arm and says, “I luv ou.” She knows what Brent needs—human touch, a kind face, and the words of love that heal.
Dinah doesn’t see the color of your skin. She doesn’t care about your ethnicity. It doesn’t matter to her if your religious or not. She’s not concerned with how you identify your sexuality. I’ve watched Dinah interact with the diversity of humanity and she treats everyone the same way—a smile, a big hug, and pure love.
I’ve wondered a thousand times what it would be like to get inside Dinah’s head, to walk around in the world in her skin, to be Dinah. I’ve witnessed her frustration at not being able to tell her story. I imagine that’s why she connects so well with people who have been marginalized—people of color, people of various religions, people who are lesbians, people who are gay, people who are bi-sexual, people who are transgendered, people who are queer. They know what it’s like to not be able to freely, openly, safely tell their story. Dinah knows that feeling because she lives in the borderlands of unique difference. That night, listening to Dinah’s story, I was reminded once again that all for but a twist and turn of a tiny piece of Chromosome-15, Dinah and I would trade places. But, then again, I could say that about everybody I meet—we’re all just a breath of fate away from being in some other circumstance, living in someone else’s skin. That night I felt that Dinah was asking me if I could live my life like she lives hers.
That night Dinah taught me that if I really want to love someone, I have to touch them, dance with them, imagine myself being them, walk around in this world as if I am them. I have to let go of the idea that I am different than anyone else in the world, for by the very twist of a sliver of DNA, I could be that person. Maybe that’s what “love your neighbor as your self,” and “respect the dignity of every human being,” really means.
Dinah has changed Brent’s life with her love. Dinah has changed my life with her love. Indeed, Dinah’s kind of love could change our world. Dinah has taught me that by holding hands and loving indiscriminately, I can find hope. And I saw that hope last weekend in the vision of a single dad twirling his two-year-old daughter over his head. That vision brought me to the moment of parents of all colors, races, religions, and sexuality, loving and dancing with their kids. Love doesn’t see difference; love sees the presence of the divine in every human being. Love listen. And if we don’t listen to other people’s story; well that be the end of all our stories. It’s all so weird isn’t it? But it changes everything when we listen.