Whether in literature or life, sometimes the greatest ironies are linked to very small details in the narrative. It’s a good reminder that “small” doesn’t necessarily mean “insignificant”!
In the interest of “keeping it real,” as a young friend often exhorts, I’ll let you in on “the big little irony” in my life. It all revolves around a tiny three-letter abbreviation: IBS. I spend a major portion of my professional and ministerial life deeply immersed in teaching and practicing IBS—inductive Bible study. The practices and processes of that IBS have shaped and deepened my engagement with Scripture, and passing on those skills and concepts to students in a variety of contexts is a responsibility and a privilege that brings me great joy.
But there’s another IBS that also circumscribes my life, a much less welcome one: irritable bowel syndrome. (I told you we’d be keeping it real!) During our years in the tropics, I tangoed with typhoid, did the do-si-do (twice) with dengue fever, and took too many turns around the dance floor with a whole host of parasitic partners. The resulting souvenir is a digestive system that persistently and permanently malfunctions. For those who do not have this issue, rejoice and be glad! And please understand that it is not simply an annoying “bathroom problem,” something to make jokes about, but a chronic battle with episodes of debilitating pain and fatigue. These erratic and unpredictable episodes can derail a work day, change plans, restrict mobility and social interaction, provoke “food fear,” and just generally interfere with one’s well-being.
Even as I have spent a semester deeply and joyfully immersed in the first kind of IBS with an amazing and passionate group of students, I’ve also been walking through a particularly fierce season with the other IBS. It has provoked a lot of prayer (yes, lament and complaint included) and some new reflections on the life of faith.
As often seems to happen in a season of learning and growth, the Spirit has brought together a number of apparently unrelated threads to weave into a pattern that I am just beginning to discern. There are three threads in particular, so maybe this will be a braid (a life line??) rather than a tapestry. The first thread dangles in front of me as we are making our way through Season 3 of “The Chosen.” There is quite a set-up in one episode for the bold and desperate action of the woman with the unstoppable issue of blood; her pursuit of healing will presumably be presented in the next installment. I see her worn-out demeanor and her weariness over all the failed remedies—how that resonates! Every dietary change that fails to make a difference, every supplement or medication whose promises of relief have proven empty, every doctor who looks at her as “the mystery patient,” every bit of well-meant advice—it all adds up to a crushing weight of disappointment and disillusion. I know where that woman’s story goes—right to the feet of Jesus, with a hand stretched out to touch the hem of his garment. Her story ends with an astonishing moment of healing and restoration, and my first reaction is, “What might it look like for me to touch the edge of Jesus’ garment? Am I as desperate as she was? Is my faith as bold?” (And yes, there is complaint—haven’t I already been reaching out for the healing?) But then I’m stopped in my tracks by something I’ve never really thought about before—that moment of healing isn’t the end of her story, it’s just the beginning of a life narrative about which we know absolutely nothing. On the other side of that miracle was a trajectory of daily choices. Bleeding or not bleeding, unclean or clean, ostracized or welcomed, fatigued or rejuvenated—in each condition, she faced the choice of grateful faithfulness, of living into her identity as beloved daughter of the king, no matter what. H’mm. . .
The second thread also comes from Scripture, as one of this week’s texts on the Lectio 365 app was from Psalm 139. You know the lines about being “fearfully and wonderfully made.” It’s one thing to celebrate the astonishing complexity and beautiful intricacy of the human body when all its parts are working in their intended rhythm. But how do we celebrate the divine design when some of the parts are chronically dysfunctional or crazily out of whack? Is my seriously messed up digestive system an aberration, just a sad part of living in a mortal body in a broken world, or could there actually be something fearful and wonderful and purposeful about it? H’mm. . .
The third thread comes from a book I just happened to pick up at an academic conference: My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice and the Church. I sent the title to a friend and we’ve both been reading it, with an eye to talking it over someday soon. It’s been a challenging read, and I had to take it in small doses, but I am glad I persevered. Near the end of the book, the author, Dr. Amy Kenny, returns to a concept she introduced earlier: “crip time.” With mordant humor, many in the disability community use the phrase “crip time” to express what it means to have a life whose rhythm is not determined by calendars, clocks, and schedules but by the demands and debilities of the body. It means that some days, the only possible option is rest and recovery, no matter what was on the agenda or what best-laid plans have to be scrapped. It means that “productivity” cannot be the driving force in one’s decisions. I don’t think I need to spell out how frustrating that can be for a list-maker! However, Dr. Kenny’s reflections on what she has learned about the life of faith through living on crip time have given me a new perspective:
Living with crip time has allowed me to experience the fullness of God in a different way. I don’t develop on the same schedule as nondisabled people. I can’t plan how my body will be tomorrow. Crip time makes me dependent on something other than myself. It forces me to be present. All plans are in pencil. Time slows down to meet me where I am. . . It declares that each day matters. Not because of how much you get checked off the to-do list, but because you are present to the presence of the living God. It develops muscle memory for endurance beyond the markers of success. It allows us to be present with one another without expectations or future goals. . . There is no ‘on time’ or ‘on track’ when it comes to the life of faith. There is no road map for wandering in the wilderness. Following the cloud cannot be charted.
H’mm. Three strands being woven together. First, a desperately bold reach for Jesus’ healing power coupled with a commitment to faithfulness no matter on which side of healing I am standing. Second, a bold and faith-filled declaration that I am indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. As Dr. Kenny reminds, “All bodies are interdependent and fragile; ours just make it more evident. All humans bear the image of God; that doesn’t diminish after the fall—or even after a fall that results in a disability.” Third, the possibility that the dreaded episodes of the “bad IBS” might actually contain a gracious gift—the invitation to slow down and simply be “present to the presence of the living God,” whether anything else “gets done” that day or not. May the Spirit continue to braid these strands into something beautiful and strong.
 Matthew 9:18–26; Mark 5:25–34; Luke 8:40–56.
 Amy Kenny, My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2022).
 I’m detailing here my reaction to one single point in the book, but there is a lot more in Dr. Kenny’s arguments that is worthy of serious conversation in the church.
 Kenny, 164–65.
 Kenny, 59.