Background: I have been dealing with a highly infectious disease for just over a month now. This is the second time it’s been active, after a multi-week remission. I stay home when I’m having symptoms/am actively contagious and take the highest precautions to protect others when I leave the house (and to protect the others who live with me by keeping it as disinfected as possible).
I wrote this poem for a preaching class assignment in which we had to read a Scripture passage in an environment where we do not usually read, something that’s called a dislocation exercise. It’s to help us try to see the Scriptures in a new light.
I often have issues with the way that the Scriptures represent disability, but Matthew 9:1-8 is one of my favorite stories. Though I don’t know how well it separates sin from disability (meaning that I don’t think it does super well, a theme that I engage with a lot in the up-and-coming field of disability theology), it shows the power of friendship and truly seeing one another.
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Are You sure that You mean it when You say
that this is Your city, Lord? Yes, the foolishness of the Lord
is far above my wildest foolishness and best wisdom alike,
but Lord, don’t You know what I have?
Don’t You know that I now have a scarlet letter
on my medical record wherever I go?
Is this quiet, shameful knowledge of contagion
really part of what You meant when You said
that You knit me together in my mother’s womb?
No matter how many times I read
Your interaction with the paralytic in Matthew,
as I sit on my covered-up couch,
I am surrounded by far more physical evidence of this strange passage of time –
sixty or more antibiotic capsules
television remotes –
than I am by evidence of Your presence and others’.
I am surrounded and isolated at once.
How many others, O God?
How many millions are living (and dying [please take them into Your arms])
in the same conditions –
that I do
as I try to walk my daily paths but often cannot,
to inhabit the sacred Scriptures,
scared of my own skin?
How many of us populate the diaspora of this
disembodied (yet still embodied) congregation
of the Body of Christ [broken for us]?
You said that this is Your city
and You did not leave it, but rather came into it
and You are our God, still –
even (or maybe especially)
those of us in hospital rooms marked by precautions
or in homes too infected to invite people to –
and You choose to inhabit us.
You are the God Who chooses to see the man on the mat
and touch the leper
and create a spit solution for the blind man’s eyes
sit with me on my own mat
with my contaminated skin
blinded by my own fright.
Take heart, my daughter,