Angels Among Us

Rev. Tim Malone and Charles Clark give and receive grace through sharing their lives together. Photo by Bethany Keener

Rev. Tim Malone and Charles Clark give and receive grace through sharing their lives together. Photo by Bethany Keener

by Rev. Tim Malone, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Arlington
Rev. Malone gave this talk at the Heart of L’Arche breakfast on April 21. The event raised more than $130,000 in one-time gifts and new multi-year pledges to help further the mission of L’Arche in Greater Washington, D.C. Miss the event? You can still make a donation.

Jean Vainer wrote that, “L’Arche communities reveal the paradox presented by weakness and poverty. That which we reject and push aside can become a means of grace, unity, freedom and peace.”

The first time I met my friend Charles Clarke he marched into a class I was teaching and declared that he was there because he going to get confirmed. I am not proud to say, but I remember thinking cynically, “Yeah, sure you are. And how is that going to work?”

Vanier also wrote that people with intellectual disabilities know how to disturb us.  And I remember being disturbed by this guy.

Until I saw him at church that Sunday gathered around the table, and as I approached him to give him communion he called my name. His voice cracked and he began to sob, and as I gave him the host with tears streaming down my own face I prayed, “God, what is wrong with me?” Here is a man with intellectually disabilities who at that moment seemed to know more and was more connected with what is going on here than I was.

“That which we reject and push aside can become a means of grace.”

I am not saying that Charles is an angel or that he is somehow holier or more spiritual than the rest of us. Being spiritual is not a completive sport. But Charles and all of our brothers and sisters with intellectual disabilities do have a role to teach us, and I believe they do act as messengers, if we can only be humble enough and patient enough to listen.

It goes without saying that Charles did of course get confirmed at St. Mary’s and went on to become an usher and serves on the parish retreat committee.

“That which we reject and push aside can become a means of grace.”

It is humbling and sometimes I forget and I know I will be reminded … like a couple of weeks ago when I was once again at communion and I was the only one distributing the bread and I gave Fritz the host and without thinking moved on to the next person and there was Fritz’s bowed down head stuck under my hands and he demanded a blessing.

“That which we reject and push aside can become a means of grace.”

What was I thinking? Fritz is the living embodiment of the story from Hebrew scripture – when Jacob wrestles with the angel and will not let go until he receives a blessing. Would that all of us could demand blessings from each other and also give blessings to each other.