Deacon Eddie Ensley, of St. Anne Parish in Columbus, Georgia, holds a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Loyola University and has been leading parish missions and retreats for over twenty years (www.pmissions.com). Eddie is a nationally recognized author of many books, including Letters from Jesus: Experiencing the Depth of His Love and Everyday Mysticism: Meeting God Face to Face (Twenty-Third Publications).
The first night of the parish retreat I led in Indiana was over. In the silences of a guided meditation I saw tears in many eyes, and most everyone’s face was softened by the Holy Presence that had touched our hearts. It was a gift of God.
Immediately after dismissing the group, I saw a blind man with dark glasses, guided by his best friend, walking quickly toward me. I shook his hand and he said, “You have a physical disability, don’t you?”
The surprise of his insight stunned me. “Yes, I do,” I answered. “Right hemisphere brain dysfunction, probably from a birth injury. How could you tell?”
“I realized you had struggled just like me, and I could tell by the intonations of your voice. God has pulled you through, just like he has pulled me through,” he continued.
Bring your helplessness to God
The blind man’s words led us into a lengthy heart-to-heart discussion on how God’s grace had come to us in the midst of our disabilities.
We both had to deal with shame. Though I was bright and good with words, my disability caused several learning disabilities that left me seeming awkward and causing big problems in school.
My peers at times taunted me because I was different, and some of my teachers, unable to understand my disability, poured on the blame. One teacher said to me, “Eddie, you are no good at all.” I felt the same way about myself.
I decided to take my shame, helplessness, and anger to the only place I could take it, to Jesus, pouring everything out at his feet. For people with disabilities, admitting our helplessness to God is the beginning of the ability to cope. My blind friend had also found that to be true.
Jesus gives us strength
One constant source of strength I found was meditating on the crucifixion. On the cross, Jesus subjected himself to disability, and even his resurrected body bears his scars as a sign of God’s solidarity with all who feel hurt and shamed.
When I felt shame overcome me, I would finger the crucifix I carried in my pocket, pressing the corpus tightly to my hand. I would pray, “Lord, you felt a universe of shame on that cross. Let my shame pass into your wounds and disappear in the flame of your love.”
I’ve given parish retreats all over the country, and I’ve found that most of us have some sort of physical or emotional disability. And I’ve found, over and over again, that bringing our disabilities to Christ on the cross can fill us with God’s love and strength to cope, and give us God’s courage and compassion to reach out to others in need.