Recently I heard a person talking about their life in a wheelchair. They were not suffering from a life threatening illness, but had suffered spinal problems. So the person was describing their life, and how difficult was.
Then came the comment that prompted this reflection. A friend of theirs said ‘Have you considered ‘Exit’? (Exit is a legal organisation in Switzerland that assists people who wish it to suicide). This comment struck me because it was like any other advice: so ‘normal’. A person is talking about their arthritis, and another says ‘Oh, have you thought about glucosamine tablets?’
When it comes to suicide, and its legalisation, we put ‘Exit’ into the same mental camp as other helpful products, so that the question ‘Have you considered X?’ can apply to the ending of one’s life as much as to a choice of shampoo. It is not a very big step from asking ‘Have you considered X’ to saying ‘You should consider X’ When a procedure is entirely legal the other options which might be developed are then harder to consider.
Take for example the case of the person in the wheel chair. When a person has a lot to manage, they need home help with dressing and toileting, they need special equipment to help them with mobility and buildings need to be designed with wheel chair access in mind. These are the imaginative possibilities that arise when the possibility of ‘exiting’ is taken away. Luckily, most of us prefer to be supported in disability, and supported on the last phases of our journey than to take ourselves out of the picture too soon.
A friend of mine who researches these things said to me that when it comes to the end of their lives, the most ardent advocates of organisations like ‘exit’ tend not to ‘exit’ themselves but to use the services of support and palliative care that are available.
This brings up another mental construct: that before the event, it is sometimes necessary to have an idea that just ‘blocks up’ the unknown for the time being. We say ‘Oh, I don’t want to be a burden, I’ll go to ‘exit’ if I can never walk around or keep my independence.’ But when the time actually comes, we are happy enough to be burdens and to be dependant. Some ideas that are expressed are not meant to be taken seriously.
But the way of thinking that leads to ‘Exit’ has behind it some un-expressed assumptions like ‘I do not want to be dependant’, ‘I do not want to be a burden.’ At a lower level I often come across people who do not want anyone to know when they are sick. It is as if being sick is also a matter of shame that has to be hidden. They sometimes say ‘I don’t want everyone asking about my condition’
I think about being a member of the Church, and how great an advantage it is to be supported in prayer, how great an advantage it is to be publically blessed, how great an advantage it is to be supported with food or other help when one is less than robust.
All of these objections stem from the question about relationships. In the Church we are members of one another. This means that we are not ashamed to be on the receiving end of support when it is offered in just the same way that one part of the body helps another part of the body when it is not functioning optimally.
But at the same time, I do understand it when people who are trying to be helpful, end up being less than helpful. As members of the Body of Christ, not only do we have to learn how to receive, we also have to learn how to offer help in ways that convey respect and compassion and a genuine listening to another person, rather than trying to help in ways the invade another person’s space, or end up being lectures on what another person ‘should do’ and so on.
So I think that in these two places: the desire not to be ‘a burden’ and the sometimes inappropriate offers of help the image of the Body of Christ is helpful in offering an alternative in imagination to the alternatives.
This makes me think about other places where a failure of imagination limits the possibilities that are open to us in the Church. It is one of the dangers of living in an Ex-pat community, or even of living in an English speaking community where most people speak French.
In this case the question ‘Have you ever thought about X, Y or Z’ becomes a useful question in opening up a community’s imaginative horizon. This is what prompted the sermon a few weeks ago about the way in which our church architecture shaped and still shapes our thinking about what worship is for. The questions like “Have you ever thought about why the church pews are there at all?” “ Have you ever thought about why the choir pews face one another but the church pews make us look at the back of another person’s head?” Have you ever thought about why the Altar is not in the centre of the Church but instead is at one end? Have you ever thought about why we changed from having a priest facing toward the wall to preside, to having the priest face the people?” “Have you ever thought why we stopped having separate baptisteries and immersion fonts and switched to having smaller fonts at the front of Churches? On it goes.
These are some questions that some people have strong answers to, without knowing why. These are questions which may not have been put on anyone’s radar screen much. In thinking about how we are the Body of Christ, it is important to keep seeing new places, to keep reading and to keep on thinking about why it is that we do what we do.
Whatever answers we come up with will not be as important as the fact that we are thinking about the issues, and trying to expand our horizons about them. In this way lies life.