I was once asked to speak to the topic "I am more than my disability". I fashioned my address, in part, on the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem". He is a tired old man, but so am I. At the end of my presentation I played the last half of his song beginning at 3:20 in the video at the end of this blog. This is part of what I said that day.
... Fulton Sheen wrote this:
the human heart is isolated and in agony: it has more love to give than any
earth-bound object can receive – it clamours to be loved more lastingly and
comprehendingly than by any human lover. But both longings – to love perfectly,
and be loved perfectly – are mere vacuums in man.”
Ego is a supreme contradiction of
love. My ego has been so large that God
needed to subdue it so that I could clearly sense His Being and be sensitive to
His leading and discover the purpose and meaning of my life. My illusions of
self-sufficiency needed to be shattered because it kept me from divine intimacy that was/is dependent upon God’s grace and sufficiency.
My heart needed to break in order for
me to understand why I could not love perfectly or accept God’s perfect
love. I needed to be
stirred and shaken
to the foundations of my soul with nothing left but a broken heart.
For so much
of humanity it is in brokenness that we can begin to seek wholeness. Have you ever noticed that many of God’s
truths seem to be wrapped in apparent contradictions or paradox:
· In life we find death and in death we find life.
· In weakness we find strength. In our strength we find weakness.
· Many who are first here will be last in the kingdom of God; those
who are last here will be first there.
· In self-sufficiency we find defeat, but only in defeat can we
begin to truly understand the depths of God’s sufficiency.
I needed to be reduced to physical,
emotional and spiritual collapse
for only in that state did I sincerely and
finally ask “Why was I
born? What is the purpose of my life? What is the
meaning of my existence?” I am reminded of the words of a song
by Leonard Cohen:
... every heart to love will come, but like a
refugee. Ring the
bells still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is
crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
He has said and written many
questionable things but on this point
Leonard Cohen inadvertently stumbled on a
truth. In our pain and
light of perfect love can come, if we let it. And we
can use our pain to
encourage others who suffer.
One day I got a call asking me if I
would visit another young man
named Derek who had just been diagnosed with
Let me give you a bit of background about Derek. This guy
winner. He had Brad Pitt good looks. Derek had just finished a
in engineering and his career was beginning to take off with
a large Calgary
oil corporation. Derek and his beautiful
jet-setter professionals. They drove a flashy BMW, skied Lake
on winter weekends and vacationed in Maui.
His MS was
catastrophic from the onset. His vision became severely
and he landed up in a wheelchair very early after onset.
When I met Derek he was living alone
in a darkened apartment. His wife had left him, and his career was gone. I sat
with him and
listened to his grief. He allowed me special entrance into his
sorrow. I was able to say to Derek, “God is with us at this moment. You may not
believe that but I tell you I can feel His presence. Let the Holy Spirit
comfort you as I have experienced His comfort.” Derek was too angry to accept
my witness but as the old saying goes: “You may not be the last link in the
chain toward a person’s conversion ─ just don’t be the missing link."
Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee.
We must open our hearts to divine love.
I have discovered that I have been
more use to God disabled than I
was when I was able-bodied. Before I was hurt, my heart was closed to all but the most basic of spiritual truths. It was only
when my heart cracked and broke that Christ’s light came into
My journey through chronic illness and
disability involved a re-discovery of the natural human dignity that is the
possession of every human life beginning at the spark of life we call
conception. It has nothing to do with our circumstances.
An individual with a severe disability
or incurable illness must
ultimately turn to the spiritual aspect of life (in
as much is
cognitively possible) – if they are to discovery meaning of their
anguish. It involves searching for the Source of human dignity –
sets humans apart from the rest of creation: In other
Humanity is not defined by knowledge
or power. We do not get our worth and value by what we can do, our abilities or
sentience; it comes from merely being.
For those of us who are severely
disabled ― and are able to seek
the revelation of God’s divine love ― we must
be open to letting God use our pain, anguish and trials as a vehicle to
spiritually mature us and transform us to be more like Christ. This is
important because, as this transformation begins to change us, we will discover
our natural human dignity, if we remain open to Christ’s leading.
It was important for me to resist the temptation to
become bitter, not focus on my predicament, and simply surrender again and
again to that divine love of Christ.
Grief is like a river that can block the sufferer
from continuing his individual life journey. It is imperative to cross the
river of grieve and discover what is on the other shore. After the initial
shock passes it becomes critically important to actively and intentionally
rebuild one’s life and incorporate the new reality into the future.
The individual must develop a new self-identity that
includes his disability or condition ─ and his loved-ones must encourage this
process and accept the new person and how he perceives himself. But the individual’s new reality should not
be focused on his disability. This
transition phase is uncertain and even dangerous.
Some people refuse to rise above their circumstances
and cross their river of grief to face a new reality. They want their old life back or they want no
life. They are unwilling to cross their river of grief and they can become
suicidal. Unresolved grief in people with disabilities (and their loved-ones)
can fuel calls for euthanasia and assisted suicide.
This is an important fact for everyone to understand
in the current climate where euthanasia and assisted suicide
acceptance is creeping into North America’s mindset. Understand that unresolved
grief must be proactively addressed. It
must be addressed as an issue that extends well beyond people with disabilities
and their families: Their communities must acknowledge that settling unresolved
grief is critically important for the sake of the community’s greater good.
Playing a supportive role at local parish levels to
those overwhelmed by persistent grief is a necessary ingredient to help hurting
people eventually return to active parish and community life.
For me, the bridge across my river of grief was the
Cross. Christ was not merely waiting on the other shore ─ He’s been with me
throughout every leg of my disability journey. He continues to help me
re-define and re-develop my life; Christ is helping me understand where, how
and why I fit into the world with my new and evolving realities.
Disability journeys often involve developing new
dimensions of self-identity that are different from a previous self-identity
but no less vital ─ and perhaps even more vital as each individual discovers
new aspects of their living experiences.
Granted these new dimensions of life can involve pain but pain may be
necessary for our spiritual development.
The Church teaches
"The human body shares
in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it
is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is
intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.” (CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, No.
This is a reality that does not change with
disability or sickness. The human body will always share in the sacred dignity
of bearing God’s image, regardless of its brokenness or state. The human soul
always remains intact and waits for new dimensions of the living experience to
be revealed that were previously unknown and unexplored by us or those who love
An atrophied and unresponsive body is still a temple
of the Spirit. All I have is cracked and broken. I have no perfect offering to
give God. Strangely yet wonderfully that was when His love became most evident.
The separate parts of my life do not add up to the sum total. That is only
possible through Christ. He makes sense of it all and completes my life. There
is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.
Yes, I am more than my handicap. We are all so much
more than whatever handicap keeps us from reaching the potential God intends
for us. It is only when we surrender our broken bodies, hearts and lives to the
living Christ that we will begin to see new spiritual dimensions blossom within
us and the body of Christ.