Embers 5: Bodies...

PSALM 34

1   I will bless the LORD at all times;
          his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2   My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
          let the humble hear and be glad.
3   O magnify the LORD with me,
          and let us exalt his name together.
4   I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
          and delivered me from all my fears.
5   Look to him, and be radiant;
          so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6   This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,
          and was saved from every trouble.
7   The angel of the LORD encamps
          around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8   O taste and see that the LORD is good;
          happy are those who take refuge in him.
9   O fear the LORD, you his holy ones,
          for those who fear him have no want.
10  The young lions suffer want and hunger,
          but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11  Come, O children, listen to me;
          I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12  Which of you desires life,
          and covets many days to enjoy good?
13  Keep your tongue from evil,
          and your lips from speaking deceit.
14  Depart from evil, and do good;
          seek peace, and pursue it.
15  The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
          and his ears are open to their cry.
16  The face of the LORD is against evildoers,
          to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17  When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears,
          and rescues them from all their troubles.
18  The LORD is near to the brokenhearted,
          and saves the crushed in spirit.
19  Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
          but the LORD rescues them from them all.
20  He keeps all their bones;
          not one of them will be broken.
21  Evil brings death to the wicked,
          and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22  The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
          none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

In his own take on today's passage, Rev. Derek Davenport says, "Reading this psalm is somewhat shocking because it is so physical. The psalmist writes about mouths, lips, and tongues. We read of eyes, faces, and bones." And he's right: there is a lot of imagery about bodies and senses in this psalm. After a conversation I had with my close seminary friend last night about words and their power, particularly in the context of privilege, my initial reading of this psalm was not exactly a pleasant one.

Throughout human history, we've had to face the reality that some people enjoy the privilege of certain bodily and sensory experiences from which others are excluded. Some can see while others are blind. Some can hear while others are deaf. Some can speak while others are mute. Some can touch while others either lack the nerve ability to experience the sense of touch or have conditions that make touch a painful experience. In short, some can while others cannot. Yet again, we're faced with an us/them reality.

Though I've encountered many people who are physically differently abled — I do my best to not use the term disability unless it is first claimed by the person I'm talking to — I've had more experience with people who live with developmental delays (I don't know what language is considered best practice here, so bear with me). In my senior year of college, I was blessed to work in a residential home for such individuals. One young man in particular is still memorable to me today, Johnny. A few years older, he had severe cerebral palsy and mental retardation. He was wheelchair bound and unable to speak, at least in any vernacular I could fully comprehend.

Yet on any given day, he told me more with his eyes and smile than words could have ever expressed. One day, I got to work with him with his occupational/physical therapist. In a dimly lit room, we placed him in this massive bean bag with subwoofers built in. The OT and I rolled up his sleeves and his pant legs, and rubbed his atrophied muscles with lotion. She would move his legs and arms in gentle movements, paying close attention to his face. As time when on, his body became increasingly relaxed, and he finally fell asleep. I had many other days with Johnny — feeding him, reading stories to him, showing him picture books, helping other staff members bathe him. It was years later that I would describe these moments as holy, sacred.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
      but the LORD rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
      not one of them will be broken.

We still live in a time when those who can't see, hear, touch, taste, smell, walk, or speak are treated with pity, seen as less than. Simultaneously, we take for granted the language we use in various settings that is inherently exclusive and othering. Yet this psalm is a reminder that able or unable, we are all within reach of God's love, God's acceptance, and God's power to strengthen and transform. God's promise of rescue, of wholeness, is a universal one. Maybe being differently abled, if anything, is a sign of one's closeness to God, of one's ability to experience God in ways the rest of us can't. Jesus constantly flipped popular ideas and theories upside down. If that's the case, maybe the bodies we consider whole are broken, and the broken ones are more whole than we could ever imagine.

**If you want to follow along with the devotional lectionary I’ll be using for this series, you can find it here via Pittsburgh Theological Seminary**

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photo credit:  StudioTempura (via Flickr)