I am right handed. I use my right hand to write, occasionally to play tennis, golf or cricket, but most especially to drink coffee. Until recently, I assumed I only used my left hand to lean on. Then on 1st May, I had a stroke. Thankfully, I can talk, walk, see and think. However, my left hand was affected.
At first, it stubbornly stayed clutched, refusing to obey orders from my brain. Rather disconcertedly, I could see it on the end of my arm, but it did not feel like part of my body. It did not take long to realise how much I needed my left hand, as I tried to button my shirt, or tie my shoelaces, or cut up and eat my food. However, as skilled occupational therapists worked with me, my fist began to open up, and my grip grew stronger. Visitors to the hospital were greeted with a handgrip instead of a handshake. With vigorous exercises my left arm, so weak initially, began to build up its strength again. I willed away hours completing exercises with my fingers, wrist, and knuckles, coaxing the digits to open and work. I had to spend time and energy intentionally and intensely using my left arm and hand to build Lego bricks, play Connect Four, place objects in a box, lift a weight, throw a tennis ball against a wall and catch it. Eventually I was able to function normally again and return to driving a car. I am now typing this blog using my left, as well as my right hand. When I was deprived of the use of my left hand, I realised how important it was.
The Preacher in me, never one to waste any experience positive or negative, began to reflect on Paul’s analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12, when he writes, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”
Paul goes on to argue from verse 22… “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour.”
There are times in our lives when we may feel like my left hand, insignificant, not appreciated and useless. However, in the church, the body of Christ, there are no insignificant parts. Everyone is significant and important. All of us have gifts, roles, expertise and wisdom. As a pastor in First Armagh Presbyterian Church for 28 years, I reckon I conducted 234 funerals. I confess for some of those people, I only realised the significance of all their gifts, personalities, and stories, when they were gone, and I was preparing their funerals, listening intentionally to their friends and families.
In Northern Ireland we have inherited a context where society does not work together well. For periods of our history, communities were deprived of their civil rights, and physical violence was used wontedly against the other. Since, as a society in a small area we were all part of one body, this was a form of self-mutilation. To use Paul’s analogy, one hand was inflecting pain on its own torso.
At present, one part of the body politic is refusing to govern with another part of the body, thus inflicting economic and societal pain on the whole body. Sam McBride in a recent article in the Belfast Telegraph entitled “NI’s frightening decay is breaking public services – and breaking people”, quotes an anonymous senior business figure, ”the two sides were expending their energy on tribal disputes while critical infrastructure degrades around them.”
From my experience of losing the use of my left hand, may I suggest a period of intense exercises, where we deliberately and intentionally set aside time, compassion, and energy to work with all parts of the body politic in our local communities, so that all feel appreciated, useful, and significant.
Tony Davidson is the Minister Emeritus First Presbyterian Church, Armagh.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article of those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.