Over the past three years I have had the privilege to work with Kevin, a young man diagnosed with Autism. I think about Kevin every day; he has become my little brother. I think about how dependent Kevin is on others for everything in his life- he has two caregivers along with a wonderful family that loves him and does everything they can for him. He will spend his whole life needing a caregiver. If I am with Kevin, he needs me to assist him and teach him with every living skill imaginable (eating, putting on clothes, using the bathroom, and even asking for help). I also think about Kevin’s relationship with God: Sure, blessed are the poor in spirit, but how does that apply to an individual that only quotes phrases from Spongebob and the Simpsons? How am I to share the Word with Kevin and others with intellectual disabilities?
I was quite lucky that one of my theological heroes, Henri Nouwen, spent a great deal of time of time working with individuals with disabilities, and wrote an entire book about his relationship with his friend Adam (Henri’s Kevin). I found that Nouwen asked a lot of familiar questions (sans Spongebob), and his perspective when addressing these questions has changed the way I understand God’s Love. Nouwen writes:
Could Adam pray? Did he know who God is and what the Name of Jesus means? Did he understand the mystery of God among us? For a long time, I thought about these questions. For a long time I was curious about how much of what I knew, Adam could know, and how much of what I understood, Adam could understand. But now I see these were for me questions from “below,” questions that reflected more about my anxiety and uncertainty than God’s love. God’s questions, the questions from “above” were, “Can you let Adam lead you in prayer? Can you believe that I am in deep communion with Adam and that his life is a prayer? Can you let Adam be a living prayer at your table? Can you see my face in the face of Adam?”
And while I, a so-called “normal” person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no ability or need to make any comparisons. He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness but given for my transformation. While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that “being is more important than doing.” While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me that “God’s love is more important than the praise of people.” While I was concerned about my individual accomplishments, Adam was reminding me that “doing things together is more important than doing things alone.” Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy. But by his very life, he was the most radical witness to the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered” (Adam: God’s Beloved, p. 55-56).
Over time, and only recently, I have realized that Kevin has been my teacher all along. I am dependent on Kevin, and I need him just as much as he needs me. I am reminded of Romans 12:4-5, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Kevin and I certainly do not have the same function, but we are both made in the image of God and we are both children of God. Kevin knows the Word and he is teaching me the Word. Each night, I sit with him at the dinner table, I pray for him and his family, but I am also reminded that his whole life is a prayer. After that, we sit together and share God’s Love while we watch SpongeBob together.
When sharing God’s Love, or teaching another, has there been a time where you have been the one taught something? In regards to Romans 12:5, What do you think it means to “belong to each other?”
By: Harvey Bayliss