by Leland Sapp, Plains congregation
It is often too easy for many of us to overlook the dignity of the human body. Even amid a culture so focused on the physical, many of us take our bodies and the bodies of others for granted.
Eleven years ago, I began to understand the dignity of the human body. It was Christmas 2008, and my first day on the job involved getting two men with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of bed and ready for the day. Both men were over 50 years of age, and both were non-verbal. One was also blind.
In the evening came the showers. With hesitation, sensitivity, and sobriety I performed my task. I did my best to notice the non-verbal cues that indicated if I had not washed well enough or missed a spot. I worked with these men for two years. Every evening when shower time came, I took pause and intuitively knew that caring for another’s body was serious business.
1 Corinthians 3:16 reminds us that we are “God’s temple,” and that “His Spirit lives in us.” This alone is reason enough to “take serious” the body, and to give it the reverence and respect that it inherently deserves. The adults with disabilities we serve at Peaceful Living have taught me there are other reasons to dignify the body.
I now serve in a leadership role for Peaceful Living, a nonprofit that supports and cares for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I regularly spend time with residents by sharing meals with them and attending events with them.
Recently, I approached one of our non-ambulatory, wheelchair-bound women. In spite of her abnormal overbite and contorted body, her joyful smile and welcoming eyes reminded me that housed within this physical shell is a beautiful human being named Dawn. While her body is indeed the temple of the Holy Spirit, it is also the temple of a human being—a humble, vulnerable, humorous being that calls us to approach with trust, openness, reverence, and dignity.
Another one of my friends is Dan. Housed within the body of Dan is the gift of hospitality. In the summer of 2008, Dan invited me to attend the Catholic mass he attends. I watched as Dan greeted parishioners and ushered and directed latecomers to open seats. After the service, he introduced me to his longtime friends and invited us to join them at a local diner for breakfast. It was evident Dan was among friends he had known for decades. Thanks to Dan, I experienced true belonging that day.
Within Dan’s temple also resides the gift of mercy. As 2018 ended, my mother-in-law was in her last days. A few days before she passed away, I sat in my car feeling somber and reflective. Just before I got out of the car, my phone rang. It was Dan.
“How is your mother-in-law?” he asked. I sat quietly holding back the tears as he waited silently.
“Not good,” I said.
“Sorry to hear that,” he said. More silence.
She died just a few days later. Even now, I choke back tears when I think about how Dan was the only person to pick up the phone and call to ask about an important person in my life who was dying. I know others cared, but it was Dan who picked up the phone and embodied compassion and empathy. I honor him for that. I honor the body in which these qualities and gifts reside.
Within the body of all of us–including Dawn and Dan–lives a bundle of fullness, God’s most precious creation, you. Someday this physical body will decline and die. In that moment, who we are within will reside eternally without bodily limitations. Until then, let us honor and dignify our bodies to the fullest.
Founded in 2000, Peaceful Living is a faith-based nonprofit organization, which identifies and seeks to engage the gifts of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to create belonging for as many people as possible. Through their three primary programs—Residential Services, Day Programs, and Family Services—Peaceful Living’s work impacts more than 180 individuals and their families in Bucks, Montgomery, and Delaware counties. Peaceful Living is sponsored by Mennonite Health Services and is an Eastern District & Franconia Conference CRM (Conference Related Ministry).
A longer version of this article originally appeared in The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.
Prayer requests for Peaceful Living:
§ That the people we support would experience true belonging as they live and serve in our local community
§ Recruit and hire dedicated direct care professionals
§ Raise financial support to enable us to add sites and programs, so we can serve more better