Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ordinary Time

My life has not turned out like I planned.

I could unpack that statement, the world's biggest suitcase, for days, but for the moment I'll restrict myself to this: for an unbaptized, uncatechized, unrepentant unbeliever, I attend an egregious amount of church.

We're talking every Wednesday and alternate Sundays, plus assorted evensongs and holidays. I wear robes. I endure incense. I sit up front, remain seated while everyone else takes communion, and tune out vast swaths of the sermon. I can sing all the responses and have to restrain myself from accidentally continuing into the priest's bit. I possess a frankly disturbing knowledge of the liturgical calendar.

It's not unpleasant, though the robes can be itchy. I just have to block out the readings, many of which feature biblical passages I find mildly to moderately disturbing, or even offensive. It's pretty clear to me that the bible belongs to another time.

But this Sunday, the fourteenth after Pentacost, my Ignore-0-Matic failed. It was 9:15 or so; some sleepy congregant was stumbling through Isaiah. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my comfortable contemplation of the dust on the rafters. My consciousness had snagged on something: what? I listened in, struggling to identify the errant aural stimulus. Was it an error of grammar? A particularly noxious metaphor? Nope.

It was the sound of Jesus Christ horning in on my professional territory.

Isaiah 35: 5-6

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.

I blinked. Did Jesus possess the Certificate of Clinical Competence? Had I missed the gospel in which Jesus attends graduate school and, through years of irritating busy work and demanding clinical practica, acquires a thorough grounding in evidence-based practice? As far as I knew, he was Jesus Christ, Son of our Lord, not Jesus Christ, CCC-SLP.

The Gospel verse elaborated:

Mark 7: 32-25

And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him.
And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue;
and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Eph'phatha," that is, "Be opened."
And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

I fumed. Not only was Jesus dabbling in the professions of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology without a license, but by making free with the miracles he was undercutting the slow, often painful process of real-world communicative rehabilitation. Cochlear implants may unstop the ears of deaf children, but cochlear implants provide only a facsimile of normal hearing, and most kids still require extensive aural rehabilitation. Augmentative communication systems may help the non-verbal to communicate, but parents who expect speech to well up from within their nonverbal children are setting themselves up for heartbreak.

Peddling miracles is dangerous. I've seen the families of stroke victims lose their homes to pay for experimental -and ineffective- oxygen therapy in China. I've seen the parents of autistic children hire exorcists. Several years back, Facilitated Communication -an adult guiding a nonverbal child's hand at at a keyboard or letterboard- swept through the special education community like a fever. Parents and school systems mortgaged themselves to hire facilitators until carefully devised experiments -coming on the heels of numerous facilitated accusations of sexual abuse- unequivocally disproved the practice.

No, Jesus isn't doing anyone any favors. Yet, as much as I wish he'd taken the professional high road, that he'd "taken him aside from the multitude, set measurable short-term objectives and worked, Lo, these 12 months of treatment, toward incremental gains in communicative function and activities of daily living," I accept that the revised version isn't going into the lectionary anytime soon.

Jesus isn't an SLP. Jesus -and here the believers and I agree- is a human being. In a way, he's the ultimate human being, rendered by human beings for human beings. I may not believe Jesus to be the only begotten son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, etc., but I do believe him to be a mirror, a reflection of our oldest, most deeply felt hopes and fears. We want the deaf to hear. We want the dumb to speak. We wanted it thousands of years ago in the desert and we want it still.

Acknowledging that want -naked, senseless, timeless- is worth doing. I'll give Jesus that. But I'll be damned if invite him to join the American Speech and Hearing Association.

1 comment:

wombat said...

As an unrepentant, unwhatever else you said, unbeliever who also has spent hours in church, I know exactly where you are coming from. I know what you mean about those passages you just kind of tune out, but I also have found unexpectedly excellent prods to my imagination and reason in some of the others. It's not that I find truth in scripture so much as that I find food for thought in them. I don't think that's so strange, even among those who DO believe, but you'd have to ask them. As for your fury over Jesus' horning in on your territory, I giggle. But I also feel compelled to point out that the definition of miracle is that it's not something that happens every day. People knew that the deaf WEREN'T so easily cured, that it took more to help a child to speak than that. What makes it a miracle is that he did it himself, instantly. It's not a demeaning of the norm, but an exception from it.