Moving Beyond Ableism: Enabled to Pray the Lord’s Prayer

ADN logo squat rectangleBy Mark Pickens, Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network

The prayer that Jesus taught his first disciples, known as the Lord’s Prayer, is one of the most familiar prayers in the church, known worldwide and in numerous cultures and languages.  Scholars and teachers who research the origins and context of this biblical and historical prayer reflect on the radical and revolutionary nature of this transformative text. It has today become so familiar that many learn its content by heart and pray it individually as well as corporately in worship.

I was drawn to reflect more deeply on its truth by a film made a few years ago, The Soloist, starring Jamie Fox and Robert Downing Jr.  The film portrays the true story of two men who meet and develop an unlikely friendship.  One night Jamie Fox’s character, Nathaniel Ayers, falls asleep, as he typically does, on the streets of Skid Row in urban Los Angeles.  As he lies down, he prays the Lord’s Prayer.  His words grabbed my attention: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…..for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Nathaniel Ayers lives with schizophrenia and perhaps multiple mental illnesses.  Nevertheless, the man is extraordinarily talented in music among other gifts and skills.  He has much to offer to society, but has been stigmatized and misunderstood to the point that he has ended up homeless. Through his friendship with Steve Lopez (portrayed by Robert Downey), he eventually finds a community and a voice that expresses his musical genius.

As Ayers spoke the words of the Lord’s Prayer, the word sin stood out to me in a new light. People with disabilities are no more subject to sin than anyone else, but I reflected how often they are burdened with a bad reputation due to a theological interpretation that sees sin as the reason behind their disability.

People with disabilities are individuals who yearn for God’s presence and power to be present in their lives as much as anyone. This does not mean that they, or we, are any better than anyone else.  However, this yearning offers a powerful glimpse into a physical and spiritual reality: God’s kingdom is living in and among us.

While we pray, “thy kingdom come….on earth as it is in heaven,” do we actually believe this is true in the context of disability?  God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven calls for peace and justice for all, not for only a few people, not for only those who are able in body and mind.  It is my hope and prayer that as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we may remember those with different abilities than ours who pray this very familiar prayer.  May we truly join together in our witness for the peace and justice that the church and our world need: “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen” 

Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.

Editor’s Note: Moving Beyond Ablesism is a quarterly column featuring the work of the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) www.adnetonline.org and offers reflections from different authors on the various issues facing persons with disabilities.

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