This summer while attending one of my favorite continuing education events in the heart of the Rocky mountains, we had a conversation in one of our classes about administering the sacraments to family members and/or friends who have memory loss and can’t always remember who they are. I remember saying that they may not always remember but we need to remember for them. Through the waters of Baptism, God has called and claimed us as God’s precious children. In fact, we are all made in the image of God. “Tara Lee (insert your name here), you are baptized child of God; whatever else you are remember that you are that; for that is the basis of whatever else you are.”
For Mom, when she was sick and in the hospital, she couldn’t always remember…so we had to do the remembering for her. I would sit and hold her hand; knowing that the touch of my hand would remind her that I/we were there. I would talk to her knowing that she hopefully was hearing at least some of what I was saying. Growing up, I would worship and commune with Mom. I also know that she has been asked to commune when she is in the hospital. I hope and pray that she takes it knowing that she may not remember but that we can remember for her. (I am sure not all of us would agree here, but it is how I feel) In sharing at the table together, we are sharing in “koinonia.” Koinonia is the Greek word translated to mean “communion.”
And when we gather together in “koinonia,” we see the person not for the illness but for who they are as beloved children of God. I have volunteered with Special Olympics and they continually educate to get rid of the unpleasant descriptions of these individuals such as the R word. They teach us to say, “T lives with a disability” rather than “T is disabled.” In other words, they are not defined by their illness. I think we would do well to use that language when talking about any kind of illness. And when we see the person for who they are which is hard, hard work sometimes, we see their humanity, their vulnerability, their brokenness, their intelligence, their wonder, their awe and their beauty. (Thanks for commenting and leaving this reminder yesterday, C!) I constantly see these things in my Mom and sometimes, if for a brief moment, I forget that she is living with a mental illness.
Seeing my mom and others daily struggle with a mental illness, it is so important for me to see them for who God created them to be rather than define them by their illness. I think when we are able to do that we can find a greater freedom and grace in our relationships.
Nadia Bolz-Weber captured this so well in her sermon this past weekend (Nadia is the Pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver CO) when she wrote, “No matter what, no matter the competing voices or violence or low-self-esteem or anger that comes from a world that simply does not know how to love perfectly. Depression and loss and addiction might create pain and that pain is real. But how good is God that God has protected in you a thing that can never be harmed. And you carry within you the light of God, the Imago Dei – the image of the one who created you and here’s the thing: that and only that is the true source of your value and identity.” (You can read the rest of Nadia’s sermon here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/10/sermon-on-suicide-caesar-and-beautiful-newborns/#ixzz3H4tgjUZA)
I also love what my friend HW said during our class this summer, “When it (HW meant Alzheimer’s disease but I think you could replace it with the words mental illness, cancer, etc as well) strikes, may we listen well to the heart of God, listen well to the heart of the other, listen well to the heart of your own, and try to be Christ to them as they are the body of Christ before you.” Amen, my friend, Amen! Together it is important for us to reach out and to listen well to each other knowing that together we are the body of Christ. And together we “bear one another’s burdens” knowing we are not on this journey alone!
Together God calls us all to join in “koinonia,” to gather around the table, break bread together, and share in the cup of blessing that God offers to all God’s people who are all made in the “image of God.”