After my workout the other day, I found myself walking to the beat of the Hip Hop music rocking from the Zumba class on my way out of the YMCA. Passing the classroom, I stopped short when I noticed a young woman dancing near the doorway. Swooping up and down and all around, her arms spread wide like a great pelican, she danced a choreography all her own, while the other students followed the teacher’s steps. Her smile was wide, with speckles of joy sparkling around her like stardust. I soon recognized her as one of the women with Down Syndrome who often helps sweep the parking lot in the early morning hours, always greeting and waving to me with her usual enthusiasm “hi there!”. This beautiful earth sister is my kindred spirit. How we both love to dance!
I often see her during my workouts, always with a smile, and her usual, hearty, joyful greeting. She makes me think of how we’re all uniquely formed in our mother’s womb, each with a gift to share with the world.
I remember hearing the inspirational, limbless, Nick Vujicic speaking at a local high school. That evening he asked a young man with Down Syndrome to stand, a man he said, who had a gift. “What gift do you have that you can share?”, Nick asked. The young man stood proudly and answered, “I have the gift of loving everybody and never hurting anybody”.
I have a friend who has a particularly hard time with people who are not nice. Unfortunately, in his current job, he works day to day with many not-nice people – gossipers, yellers, and snippy, down right rude, miserable folks. Half the stress of his job is the energy it takes to protect his sensitive soul from these work place trolls. He often fantasizes of a world where everyone is nice, offering each other the gift of love, and never hurting anyone.
What he’s fantasizing about is a world infused with God, for God is love.
He’s searching for a kingdom of love, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus told us about this kingdom, that we don’t have to look for it, or wait for it, for that “kingdom of God is within you”.
Roman Catholic Priest and author, Henry Nouwen, abandoned a distinguished academic career to work at the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, a home for people with mental disabilities. Working at L’Arche and becoming friends with the mentally disabled young people in the community changed his life in ways he’d never imagined. During a time at L’Arche when he faced a “despair so great, he felt even God abandoned him..where all had become darkness”, after losing a dear friend, it was one young man among his many mentally disabled friends that restored him to wholeness.
Nouwen said this person had “been able to touch me in a way I had never been touched before. Our friendship encouraged me to allow myself to be loved and cared for with greater trust and confidence. It was a totally new experience for me, and it brought immense joy and peace. It seemed as if a door of my interior life had been opened, a door that had remained locked during my youth and most of my adult life.”
Nouwen’s story brings to mind St. Paul’s words about love. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Nouwen’s mentally disabled friend shared the greatest gift of all– love. A gift he both embodied and offered freely.
For a loving world, we need to be like little Christs. Yet as Jesus said, unless we change and “become as little children we will in no way enter into this Kingdom of Heaven”, this kingdom of divine love.
In the gospels in 1John we read, “let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God”.
And “anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love”.
Divine love comes from those dancing to a different beat, from outcasts, the simple and the humble, and from those who seek God like little children. Sprouting across the world, from a peasant, a carpenter, not worshipped by kings, hated by the religious, divine love flourished across centuries.
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