Disability, Faith and Community

Disability, Faith and Community
June 13, 2022

Over the last 12 months or so, staff and students of LKC-Open College have used some sessions of their college time to reflect on lessons to be learnt from the Black Lives Matter movement. This theological quest for racial justice is an integral part of LKC’s commitment to be a genuine inclusive community in every aspect. As our colleagues Alison and Richard suggested in a more recent post on this issue, our reflections have led us to the understanding that racial justice can only make sense within an intersectional framework. Sharing experiences about racial in/justice gave us space to think of other injustices suffered by communities marginalised on basis other than race. When it was my turn to share, it was inevitable that I would draw on my experiences within L’Arche, a community committed to offering an alternative view of disability or better yet, a deconstruction of human normality. It is a community embodied by wonderfully complex people like my friend Francis (not his real name).

Christian meditation as taught by John Main OSB has been described as simple but not easy. I have been practising it for several years and find this description to be true in my experience. It involves sitting in a relaxed but alert posture for twenty to thirty minutes and silently repeating a prayer word. The prayer word which John Main recommended was the Aramaic word Maranatha which means “Come Lord!”

Francis was a man with a moderate learning disability. He could express himself very well and his communication style could be described as direct. He enjoyed coming to the meditation group with me. The second time he came to the group I asked him if he remembered what we did. His reply was “you bang that thing and then you shut your mouth”

Several experienced meditators think this is an excellent summary of meditation.

On another occasion he had been to a church service led by members of the l’Arche communities in Manchester. One of his support workers told me that he had discussed the service with her. He had said “Church is all about Jesus. Do you know who I mean? ‘im who died when he hung himself on t’ cross!”

From time to time people with learning disabilities have to be assessed to see whether they still require the same level of benefits. This happened to Francis several times and eventually he got fed up with it. His comment was as follows; “The daft buggers! They think I’m normal! I’m not normal am I? I’m fucking handicapped! Do you know what I mean?”

Francis came to a number of events held by l’Arche Manchester. He enjoyed coming to our evening prayer once a month and also came to a retreat in daily life. This included foot washing. I did not know whether he would like to take part in this. He was often not very keen on taking his shoes off. On this occasion he did want to take part. He had his feet washed and he washed someone else’s feet. He said afterwards that it was good.

When Francis died a number of people from l’Arche attended his funeral.  He is remembered for his compassion and sense of humour. Although not perfect, he was a channel of the love of “im who died when he hung himself on t’ cross” May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

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