by David Morstad
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NRSV)
Like a lot of scripture, it’s interesting to look at what these verses don’t say. It occurs to me that the word “abilities” is never once used? We are not told there are varieties of abilities, but rather, varieties of gifts; not varieties of skills, but varieties of service; not varieties of talents, but varieties of activities; and the same God is at work in all of them.
In a group home in Kansas lived three individuals with multiple and pervasive disabilities. In fact, they were medically fragile and, for the most part, technology-dependent for the most basic functions of life. One gentleman in particular, who spent most of his time in bed, was blind, could not speak, had little movement, and needed a respirator for every breath he took. His constant companion was a pulse oximeter, a little clothespin-like device worn on the finger to measure oxygen saturation in the blood. Should the readings drop for some reason, an alarm would sound in the home.
Obviously, this level of support carried with it a substantial responsibility for staff. Early in one new employee’s training, the alarm sounded and she raced to the bedside. The screen on the small monitor above the bed indicated that the oxygen level was flat, and the man’s chest was visibly shaking. Sensing a respiratory arrest, a seizure or both, the trainee yelled for the lead staff, who arrived calmly and smiling. “The pulse-ox is off his finger,” she said, “He does that on purpose. To make you run in here. That’s why he’s laughing at you right now.”
Whether in the form of some great technical achievement, some great scholarly insight, some quiet act of service, or in the subtle interaction that reaches past seemingly insurmountable physical and cognitive limitations just to nurture a good-humored relationship, the Spirit is at work in each of us. At work on the inside, to be sure; yet pushing, burning, fighting its way to the surface in remarkable ways.
Writer and disability advocate John O’Brien speaks about community integration and valued experiences by using the phrase “sharing ordinary places”. Ordinary. In a world of special ministries, Special Olympics, and special education, it seems at times that the one place people with disabilities continue to be denied is the ordinary space.
Whether fishermen or tax collectors, beggars or shepherds. Scripture abounds with ordinary people in ordinary places living very ordinary lives, all touched and changed forever. That God would choose to live and breathe in the most ordinary of lives, might be the most outrageous and extravagant gift we could imagine.
In great mission or in quiet relationship, it seems God still seeks a place in the ordinary. There, gifted by the Spirit, extra-ordinary things are about to happen.