His words are real and raw and painfully honest … they touch deep into the ugliness of life from which we so often want to run.
“All theologising, if worth its salt, must submit to the test of hospital gowns, droning television sets, and food spilled in the clumsy effort to eat. What can be said without shame in the presence of those who are dying? At the time, that was my one test of theological method. I met a woman by the elevator each day whose mouth was always open wide, as if uttering a silent scream. In a bed down the hall lay a scarcely recognisable body, twisted by crippling arthritis—a man or a woman I’d never met. Another woman cried out every few moments, desperately calling for help in an “emergency” that never ebbed. Who were these people? They represented the God from whom I repeatedly flee.
Hidden in the grave-clothes of death, this God remains unavailable to me in my anxious denial of ageing and pain. He is good news only to those who are broken. But to them he’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, lurking in the shadows beyond the nurses’ desk, promising life in the presence of death. This is the last place I might have sought him. I found myself wanting often to run from that gaping mouth, the twisted body, the cries that echoed through the halls. I resisted going to the nursing home. Yet at the same time, I was drawn there.
I know why Francis of Assisi had to kiss the leper, why Mother Teresa reached out to those dying on the streets of Calcutta, why Jean Vanier gives himself without restraint to the handicapped. It has nothing to do with charity. It’s a concern to touch—and to be touched by— the hidden Christ, the one found nowhere else so clearly. It’s a longing to reach out to the grotesque, stroking the bloodied head of a slain lamb as its image gradually changes into the fierce and kindly face of a Lion whose name is love.” Belden Lane.
As I read that quote it reminded me of Vincent van Gogh as he ministered to the miners in the Borinage in Belgium (900 letters - August archives).
Vincent didn’t find Christ in the trappings of clerical garments or theological expositions, but in the coal dust and broken bodies and hearts of the miners and their families. He didn’t run from the ugliness of disease, the horrific wounds inflicted by mine explosions or the malnutrition so evident in the faces of women and children, but instead found the opportunity to live out Christ’s love in a ‘language’ the miners could understand … a love beyond language.
Many years ago I went with a friend on his weekly visit to an orphanage in his hometown. In one huge room there were row upon row of wooden cots and in each one laid a severely disabled child, incapable of doing anything for itself. It was eerily silent, no crying, not even whimpering.
My friend gave up a morning each week to love these children through human touch … to hold them, hug them and stroke them. Each one of them, no matter the severity of their condition, visibly reacted. It was a holy moment, these ‘forgotten” ones being touched with the love of Jesus.
I’m confronted with the need for my theology to step out of the church pew, out of its Sunday best and into the "nakedness" of compassion and self-sacrifice. That’s were theory becomes reality … the love of Christ most evident. “As you’ve done it unto the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me.” But it is also the place where emptied of myself, I can experience an intimacy with Christ beyond my imagining.
Belden Lane says, “The paradox of the grotesque is that it summons those who are whole to be broken and longs for those who are broken to be made whole”.