The faith journey of the impaired pilgrim Thank you for the invitation to join with you, special thanks to Fiona for her encouragement, persistence, imagination, for her faith, hope and love. Our life stories are all different, our experience of our body, the way our brain works, our discoveries, our companions are all different, so also our slow learning to accept the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change those things we can, and our learning the wisdom to know the difference. Our faith journeys are also different, our language and imagery, our living within the mystery of things, our awareness of the presence in daily life of the providential goodness of God, our sense of the absence of God, perhaps of being abandoned by God, we live within the spectrum of all this and so much more. My life story includes an unexpected and unwanted catharsis twenty seven years ago caused by the discovery of a developing degenerative disease in my spine necessitating three major spinal operations including the implanting of scaffolding. I am still learning to live with pain, with help! My faith journey went into meltdown, the understanding of the nature and ways of God, the way of living the life long vocation. For nearly 10 years I was visited every six weeks by Gerry Hughes a Jesuit priest living in the seminary close by. He listened, he helped me to listen, he helped me to discern what was emerging among the fragments. Much of my life was, still is, lived in what has become a much-loved room, ‘go to your cell, your cell will teach you.’ Through the years there has been an inner homecoming and within everything, more wonder, more joy New companions. Bani Shorter was an elderly psychotherapist and a close friend. ‘Donald, there will be new companions upon the way.’ I politely smiled, lost and scared within those early encounters with isolation and marginalisation. And Bani has been proved right- there have been rare, new companions the like of whom I had not met before, pilgrims inhabiting life’s paradoxes, contraction and expansion, aloneness and solidarity, apprehension and resolve, limitation and liberation, physical pain, soul pain and wellbeing, weakness and resilience, blocked bowls and spring composts, independence and interdependence…………..The world of paradox, I am learning, is not ‘an either or’ rather ‘a both and….’ New companions I want to introduce you to some of these new companions and share some of the wisdom they have drawn me into. Ministry and Disability. Since 1997 a group of priests, women belonging to religious orders, Methodists ministers, some living with physical impairment, others with depression, one living in the foothills of dementia began to meet in Birmingham 4 or 5 times a year. We encouraged each other to be real and not heroic, to live honestly and compassionately within places of darkness, weariness, frustration, vulnerability. We explore what ministry could mean within our reality. I learned through them to make the connection between our body and our sharing in the life of the body of Christ, the passion of Christ, the paschal mystery embedded in all humanity. I learned among them about our negotiating of the 2:0 am vigil, that time in darkness when we can be at our lowest, most lonely, when our imaginations become twisted and distorted, when physical pain and soul pain overwhelm us, when the will to carry on and on diminishes. I learned to ‘Offer it’, ‘Offer it toward God.’ It was Jo who taught us these things, she was born with severe cerebral palsy, communicating through a light attached to her headband pointing at her qwerty board. John, her husband is a priest. Jo taught us to realign our way of being before God: not asking God to remove us from our reality but rather offering our experience of body and soul, of chaos and disorder ‘toward God.’ Jo encouraged us to let God be God. I also learned that my body, so marvellously made, the source of much pleasure and great pain has become as a hermitage when embraced as the place where I know I shall meet God, in the here and now of my humanity. A South African nun who carried significant worldwide responsibly in her religious community, also bore much pain, said to me, ‘The passion of God in the world is carried not in abstract ideas but in our human bodies and souls, in our willingness to absorb evil, suffering and shame willingly’ Sarum College The second group of companions gathered at Sarum College across the lawns from

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