Tag Archives: holy

On “special” needs and ministry

The Sunday morning crush–those moments after worship lets out and as a pastor you spiral through the gauntlet of requests, cordialities, and pastoral care where in a matter of condensed minutes nearly everyone wants a piece of you.  Across these moments I struggle to keep track of all of the information, making mental notes, hoping against hope that I won’t lose the important stuff amidst the sea of bodies and sounds and breaths.  And then, just as suddenly, one of our congregants with special needs descends upon me, with increased intensity and concern.  She has seen something on the news that is bringing her to tears; he becomes angry as he struggles to remember what he just said to me; she can see nothing but darkness through the thick depression that plagues her.

I do not mean to paint disability here as unilateral or un-diverse, but many of the people in our congregation with special needs where their hearts on their sleeves.  They plough into me, a person who’s a bit sensitive to touch, with eager, forceful hugs.  They launch into detailed descriptions and litanies–lists of weekly activities without warrant and ad nauseum.  They foist their feelings upon me in thrusts of emotion, seemingly without warning or reason.

And in so doing, they are deeply needy.

Their bare, disruptive, palpable need right there in the midst of more palatably, socially-aware displays of contained emotion, less barrier-breaking touch, and less audacious requests clashes with my own sensibilities.  It’s too much, I think to myself, this business of trying to minister to folks with special needs alongside more “neurotypical “folks, which is the dance in which our church has become messily entangled over the past few years.  I can’t help but think about the imbalance special needs present not just during Sunday morning but within the life of a church–how I, as a pastor, can’t shirk the sense that in attending to these needy folks other more subtle needs may be lost.  In trying to provide classes and worship and counsel that is suitable for all modes of learning, my colleague in ministry, church leaders, and I may be spreading ourselves thin, engaged in some cruel, impossible quest to meet needs that are unreasonable and insatiable along others that are more comprehensible and predictable.

Sainte Chapelle
Stained glass at Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

But in pondering neediness I am reminded of the poor, elderly foster mothers whom I met in China and the way their vulnerability rocked and assaulted the sensibilities of the orphanage monitors.  Such women, many of whom had been abandoned by their own biological children, so desperately relied upon and needed their orphaned, disabled children to recreate life-giving family bonds in contemporary China.  In their need, they reminded middle-aged orphanage monitors of their own failures to care for their aging parents or their neglect of their only children.  They reminded these orphanage monitors, powerfully, uncomfortably, and disruptively of their own human and yet deeply repressed and seemingly inappropriate needs for love, compassion, and care.

And here I do mean to compare the need of these foster mothers to the need of folks with disabilities and to the needs we all have as human beings.  I am reminded of Jesus’s ministry to deeply needy people–to the perceived inconvenience of the poor, disorderly women, especially those pouring lavish ointments over his head and touching the hem of his garment.  I am reminded of the metaphors so often associated with need and disability–the unclean, the contaminators, the sinful–and I am aghast that in erecting divisions between people with disabilities and myself, I find that I am the one who is fragile, human, and sinful.  I am suddenly aware that the crush of bodies on Sunday morning and these raw emotions, hugs, and pressing needs that seem so inconvenient and disruptive are both deeply human and deeply holy.

And I begin to see that ministry and life (for in Jesus’s life), were not and are not about balance or containment or arbitration, because then life becomes about division.  Then I am led to believe that some people are needy while I am not or that need isn’t so fundamentally human, that it’s not part and parcel of Jesus’s incarnation and ministry.  So I try and I struggle and I pray to let go of my economist tendencies and submit to such a mysterious ministry of mercy and care and love.  I try not to mediate the crush; I try just to pay attention.  

But I am also reminded that it’s not just paying attention, and how painfully aware I become in these moments of my own need–my need for self-acceptance, other’s acceptance–and my need for Jesus.  And I become thankful that there are some in our midst who aren’t necessarily having such divisive thoughts or harboring such divisions, some who are so deeply, honestly, beautifully needy.  I become happily convinced that “we” have gone about this ministry all wrong, for “we” have so much to learn.  I become convinced, so richly and powerfully as I do over and over because of God’s ministry to us, that it is not I who is ministering but it is I who am being ministered to.

Crucifix
Crucifix in Paris, France. Photo by Evan Schneider.
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The kingdom of love

Kunming, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Kunming, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

A friend of mine compiled this prayer of approach from various sources for last Sunday’s service, and something about the compassionate being expected and the kingdom of love on its way touched me deeply.

May you experience the kingdom of love this week wherever you find yourself:

Come into this place, where the ordinary is sanctified,

The human is celebrated, the compassionate is expected.

Come into this place.

Together we make it a holy place, with our every act of worship.

God, help us to listen to our inner spirit;

To the inner yearning to belong to something greater than ourselves.

Help us to listen to our inner spirits

And find there the presence of your good encouraging spirit.

The kingdom of love is coming because:

Somewhere, someone is kind when others are unkind.

Somewhere, someone shares with another in need.

Somewhere, someone is patient- and waits in love.

Somewhere, someone returns good for evil,

Somewhere, someone serves another, in love.

Somewhere, someone is calm in a storm.

Lent in the everyday

In a cemetery in Paris, France.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
In a cemetery in Paris, France. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Our pastor’s message at the contemplative Ash Wednesday service last night was simple, yet profound: what might we do during this season of Lent to follow God wholeheartedly in the everyday of our life?  Instead of giving up one sinful practice, one favorite food, or even adding one daily activity, she challenged us to let Jesus dwell in our every step, our every breath, our every word.

In Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, he describes meditation much the same way.  Meditation is not a specific time set apart from our daily lives, but a way of life, a way of praying without ceasing, a way of bringing the spiritual into communion with the profane, so that the two intermix powerfully and prayerfully.  Additionally, Foster points out that the difference between Eastern and Western meditation is that while Eastern meditation seeks removal from the world and emptiness, Western meditation seeks communion with God that ultimately leads into service to others (this is not to say, of course, that Eastern meditation can’t lead to service as well!).

I’ve talked incessantly on this blog about my love affair with centering prayer, but these are the tenants that so challenge and convict me about the practice.  We may just be beginning this journey of Lent, but I am reminded this morning that we are headed not to a holy place but to a holy transformation.  We are becoming Easter people, through this process of reflection and action, and while God effects those changes in our lives and our hearts, we do the walking.  

We put one foot in front of another.  We follow.  We accept our sins and repent.  We resolve to let God into the everyday, and it is in the everyday that we truly encounter our deep depravity and God’s transformative love for us.

May we seek God everyday in this journey of Lent, leaning on one another for encouragement, and trusting God’s transformative love.  Amen.