Friday, January 11, 2013

Flying under the radar

Listen to this post:

Can't seem to get this little guy – I think he once told me Antonio was his name – out of my head. He's an elementary-aged student, probably seven or eight, in a school for autism-spectrum kids that occupies a part of the building where my art studio is located. As I come and go, I encounter him, with his kind and patient aide, at recess.

The first time we met, in the stairwell, he introduced himself with a big grin and asked my name. His outgoingness seems atypical of the other students.

A few weeks ago, in warm early-winter weather, I arrived at the time he was returning from an outdoor visit. The aide was holding the door as Antonio trailed behind, cupping something in his hands: earthworms. He held them up to show me, then nudged them closer in case I wanted to touch them. I politely declined. His aide remarked that the child "likes to take care of all the little creatures." I responded "He has a big heart, doesn't he?" The aide shook his head in agreement and Antonio parted my company repeating: "I have I big heart, I have a big heart ..."

I thought of Antonio yesterday when an ugly, ancient-looking beast of a bug straggled out of somewhere and crawled across my studio carpet. Happily, it's the only bug I've ever encountered there. I trapped him with a paint cup, slid a sheet of clean, white card stock underneath and traveled to another room ... several doorways down the hall ... opened the window and let him go. "Be free, my friend," I said feeling somewhat guilty as I released him into a colder climate than the one he'd been enjoying. Just not guilty enough to let him share my space.

What would Antonio have done? Let him crawl up into his hands? Let him stay inside?

Antonio is a wonderful reminder to pay attention to the small things in life, the little creatures, which are as much a part of Spirit's world as we. The boy reminds me of a little creature flying under the radar of the "normal" world, possibly at its margins in a better place of his own making. One filled with ordinary things many of us miss or merely bypass. How could earthworms, who really just lay there and wriggle around in their stickiness, strike tenderness in anyone's heart? Because they are living beings and part of God's Creation. Antonio seems to intuitively know this.

The concept of living at the margins has spoken to me ever since I first read about it in Henri Nouwen's work. An accomplished theologian, teacher, scholar and writer, that's where he chose to live the last 11 years of  life: among the most needy and castoffs in the Daybreak community for those with mental and physical disabilities near Toronto, where he is buried.

In a 1994 Christianity Today interview, Nouwen said:
"Jesus didn't say, 'Blessed are those who care for the poor.' He said, 'Blessed are we where we are poor, where we are broken.' It is there that God loves us deeply and pulls us into deeper communion with himself. I find it very important to stress that we are wounded healers; we don't have to run away from our vulnerability as if we don't hurt."
Maybe Antonio is confronting his vulnerability in the earthworms. I have grown to appreciate my reminder of vulnerability: each time I hear the whimpers, moans and cries from the school on the other side of my studio wall. At first, I prayed until someone knowledgeable about autism said it's more of a release than communication of pain. And yet is IS a call to vulnerability, to expose our wounds and pain.

Henri Nouwen believed so:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

• What or whom has been my reminder of vulnerability?
• How have I expressed or uncovered my wounds?
• How have my wounds become my gifts?
• How am I the wounded healer?
• What stretches my heart?

such a simple
act, one of

that, as adults,
we overlook

tending to
the little
in life,
the low-to

when a
is what may
push us



  1. I've read and almost commented on your post several times, but I am having trouble articulating my thought - so forgive me for just rambling. Yes, recognizing one's own vulnerability, flaws, wounds, and shortcomings does increase your tolerance and empathy for others and makes you reach out all the more persistently for God. The Bible mentions that Paul had some sort of difficulty. I love the first Beatitude, especially the translation that words it as "Blessed are they that know their need for God". I often begin my morning contemplation with a heartfelt declaration "God, I need you!"

    But there is more too it than that. One of the most significant healings I've experienced was when I rejected being wounded and vulnerable. A surgeon once told me that because of a serious injury I could never play ice hockey again or any other active sport. At first I was despondent, but then my heart rejected this sentence. I decided that as a child of God, made, as the Bible says, in His image and likeness and "very good", that I had dominion over all the apparent wounds of flesh and bones. After two months of prayerful affirmation of my God-given dominion and perfection, I was back on the ice and went on to play in over 1,000 hockey games without ever experiencing the predicted problems.

    The initial "wound" and subsequent triumph pushed me closer to Spirit. I could not have experienced the triumph without the wound, but neither could I have accepted and stayed in the wounded condition. So, in a way the wound was a gift, but I am no longer a wounded healer.

  2. I'm not sure how to respond, because this seems BIG; something I am supposed to pay attention to ... and I have prayed to be rid of the fibromyalgia and I still struggle. I confess that it has been so much better and I have much more energy in the last year than in a very long time. I almost hesitate to call it healing ... almost afraid to trust it. I must play with this idea of God-given dominion and perfection, Colin. I am open to anything more specific. THANK YOU!

  3. I think that the key turning point in my prayers was when my heart said emphatically "NO, I will not accept this sentence of being wounded!" That wasn't my human will speaking. As you know, God speaks through your heart. The healing wasn't instantaneous at that point, but I told myself that I was going to pray and push back against this imposition for as long as it took - even if that took the rest of my life. I still remember where I was and the feeling I had when these thoughts came to me. The fight was on!

    My authority was chapter 1 of Genesis. That was how I was created: in God's image and likeness, with dominion over all the earth, and very good. Chapter 2 and 3 of Genesis are just an allegory. They aren't about me (or you). We are not fallen men and women. Another foundation stone was chapter 3 of I John: NOW are we the children of God! I feel like the whole healing ministry of Jesus was saying "Wake up people, you aren't broken, sick, deprived. You are the children of God. Claim your heritage now!" This is what he meant when he said "Know the truth and the truth will make you free." God's grace is awesome. The Christ (the power of God's presence and presence of God's power) is with each one of us right now, but like the baby in the manger most people aren't aware of this presence. The "world" doesn't want us to see it and acknowledge it. Even some Christian denominations want to say that we are just miserable sinners.

    I could go one, but I will probably hit the limit of this comment space, so this is the Cliff Notes version of my prayers. You are welcome to email me if you want more ideas.

  4. Been fighting off the flu and thinking about what you wrote. I am enticed by the idea of authority ... had not thought of it that way, exactly. I, too agree, we are not fallen and adore your interpretation of Jesus reminding us that we are not broken. These are wonderful examples ... probably will e-mail you. Thank you so much, Colin!
    -- Cathy