By: Dr. Sharon R. Fennema, Join the Movement Toward Racial Justice Curator, UCC National
When I read the sacred story of Jesus’ birth in the gospel of Matthew through abolition and disability justice lenses, I can’t help but notice the parallels between Mary’s experience and that of many disabled people. When Joseph learns of Mary’s “condition,” he decides to “dismiss her quietly.” How often as disabled people do we experience this kind of response, especially those of us whose disabilities are not immediately perceivable. We are quietly dismissed when people don’t believe we are really disabled. We are quietly dismissed when our access needs are questioned. We are quietly dismissed when people distance themselves from us because we’re “too much:” too needy, too weird, too difficult, too much trouble. Just like Joseph, many people can’t see that perhaps our “conditions” are a gift from the Holy Spirit, meant to bring life and liberation to the world.
As I write this, the genocide in Gaza continues unabated. As people around the world and especially in the United States struggle to face the enormity of the violence and death being experienced by Gazans, some statistics are quietly dismissed:
Pregnancy and disability make surviving evacuations, bombardments, health care loss, and lack of access to medication, food, water and sanitation significantly less likely. Yet, the loss of disabled lives is often quietly dismissed. Instead of eliciting solidarity and care, ableism teaches us that increased vulnerabilities inevitably lead to increased mortality. That’s just the reality of war, the unfortunate cost of the “safety” which is so desperately and violently being sought.
In Jesus’ birth story, an angel intervenes in this potentially disastrous moment for Mary. This divine messenger inhabits Joseph’s dreams and moves him through his fear so he can take up this calling. He commits to stay alongside Mary and to use his power and privilege to sustain their freedom and flourishing. What will it take for us to resist ableism and take up our calls to solidarity with those of us who struggle for access in our communities and institutions? What will it take for us to move beyond our fears of saying the wrong thing, or not knowing enough, or whatever stops us, so that we can speak and act in solidarity with the disabled and pregnant Palestinians dying by the thousands in Israel’s war? How will we use our power and privilege to sustain freedom for the most vulnerable in Gaza and in our own communities? I believe that when we lean into these practices of abolition and disability justice, we too will recognize the gifts of the Holy Spirit growing and being born in our midst. We, too, can take up our roles in making God’s dreams of enfleshed love and expansive liberation come true.
To those made invisible, let this prayer come as recognition.
To those deemed disposable, let this prayer come as cherishing.
To those told they are too much, let this prayer come as abundant affirmation.
To those left behind, let this prayer come as accompaniment.
To those whose deaths are called inevitable, let this prayer come as resistance.
To those quietly dismissed, let this prayer come as solidarity.
For when we pray these prayers,
not just with our words, but also our deeds,
God’s love can grow and come to birth,
bringing life and liberation to us all. Amen.
Artwork: “Until Everyone is Free” by Mama Muralista.
Used with permission CC BY-NC-ND
Find more at Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative
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