My dad died of Pulmonary Fibrosis a few years back. Receiving a diagnosis like this is pretty much a death sentence. There is no cure, and it progresses rather quickly. Eventually your lungs just stop working and you can no longer breathe.
My dad’s case was exceptionally rare, as he managed to live a full life until 25 years after his diagnosis. Eventually though, it began to show its ugly face in numerous ways, the most obvious was the oxygen tank he would drag around with him. He lived his life as best he could, though I knew he lived in a constant state of low-level panic, worrying about what would happen if the oxygen tank failed.
This reflection, though, is not about my dad.
Rather, it’s about something he taught me in those final months of his life. About those things I take for granted. Like breathing. Until I witnessed him, literally fighting for breath, unable to speak a full sentence without pausing for breath, I never realized how easily I take things for granted. I never gave a second thought to the fact that I breathe effortlessly, unconsciously, easily. I don’t need to plan for it, accommodate my life to it, or worry when it will stop completely.
Breathing was something I never really gave any thought to. Now I do.
Now I try to be more aware of those things I previously took for granted. Like many of us, I was unaware of how difficult, how painful, how challenging life can be for so many, until it hits close to home.
So where am I going with this? Well, once again, I’m reminded of how narrow my world view can be. I give a special “thank you!” to Rev. Dan, who’s recent blog entitled “The Back Pew” caused me to reflect on the use of pews in our churches. I am grateful because it reminded me that while I can choose a place to sit when I enter a church, there are many unable to make the same choices: people we leave outside the church. Sitting in wheelchairs, walkers, and using mobility devices of all kinds, who cannot negotiate the steps, let alone the doors, to add their voices to our songs of worship. These are possible community members who want to be able to choose which church the join, where they will park their chairs, which service they want to attend, and which activity or study group they would like to be a part of–almost as easily as you and I do–without giving it too much thought.
I don’t believe this is intentional. I choose to see it as something we forget about, put somewhere near the bottom of our church priority list, or one of those things we’ll get to when we have “some time.” Yet, I believe it is experienced as a deeply distressing, lack of welcome to any differently-abled individual seeking their rightful place in our communities of faith, and yet finding themselves unable to enter.
Think of the gifts and the blessings we miss out on, when we forget to seek out the voice of everyone, when making decisions as communities of faith. We cannot afford to take anything, or anyone for granted. Just like my dad, reminding me how the simple act of breathing is a divine gift, so too, as a people, we must work to create and maintain inclusive communities of faith, taking no one, and nothing, for granted.
And hey! What better time to do this than now? Covid has forced us to stop in our “busy and productive tracks” and to slow down. Maybe this is a unique opportunity we have, to think about and listen to some alternate ideas and visions of what it means to be church?
But only if we stop and pay attention to that which we take for granted, those things we make assumptions about. These are the things that prevent us from recognizing the invitation of God, the invitation to forget no one and to welcome all. To do what we need to do to make that happen. To honour the kinship we all share and intentionally make space for each other.
Besides, who’s to say the Holy One isn’t outside the church doors right now, unable to be welcomed inside?
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” Hebrews 13:2