But I do recall one wonderful Sunday, when I was about 23. I was volunteering with a local disability support service and we were on a camp in South Canterbury that included a Sabbath outing to the Ashburton Trotting Club. This took place in my more orthodox period and I battled with myself over this decision to ditch my friends in wheel chairs, or to attend the local LDS meetings. Perhaps because it seemed a bit counterproductive and churlish to abandon someone who couldn’t feed themselves so that I could take the sacrament, I went along with everyone else to the race meet.
Halfway through the afternoon I found myself in the track bar, as an increasingly inebriated, and an increasingly vocal crowd of folk with broken bodies cheered along their picks and slurringly swore as their race tickets turned up nags instead of winners. I was still uncomfortable with my decision to break with my normal Sunday tradition in order to be an accessory to all manner of moral debauchery. That was until Peter.
I was Peter’s carer. Peter was in his 20’s and was born with severe cerebral palsy that had confined him to a wheelchair for his entire life. Notwithstanding, he had a lightening quick wit, and what he lacked in physical ability he made up in his intellectual and emotional acuity. When he placed has twisted hand on my arm, managed a crooked smile and an awkward, “Thank you for being here”, I felt the warm embrace of heaven descend upon me, and whisper an absolute assurance that I was where I was supposed to be at that time, on that day.
I have felt an unqualified proximity to the heavens on four occasions in my life. This was one of them. As I looked about me at this group of tipsy and rowdy invalids I got a sense of the purity of Christ’s mission to lift up the feeble knees. I had felt Christ’s love for me on many occasions. My Mormon upbringing had done a good job of giving me a conviction as to my own potential and my own divinity. But up until then I didn’t have a strong sense of Christ’s love for others, in and out of the church, and their own divinity. At the race-track I felt it in such a wave of coherence and knowing that even now when I recall its power over me, I am still moved.
As I slipped on my shoes today for church, I was still sighing in anticipation of some moment that might catch my heart, and cause a stab of pain. Sometimes I feel the heavy weight of the irresolvable that makes it difficult to breath with the expansiveness and depth that I felt on that day when Jesus visited me at the races. And so, today I was confronted by a woman visitor to our ward who charged me, after my lesson, with being spiritless and contentious. And today the combined Relief Society and Priesthood meeting viewed a First Presidency training video which was chock full of men talking to men, about men – leaving my friend Suzy to wonder who she was in a church that both discursively, and structurally silences and denies the power of women.
Freud aptly describes this conundrum as ‘the narcissism of minor differences’ that relates to those who occupy ‘adjoining territories’ and ‘who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other.’ Sometimes in the church, our close proximity to each other causes us to flail and fight and fume as we grapple to mark our territory, or to find authentic belonging, meaning, identity and transcendence in a faith tradition that sometimes doesn’t deliver exactly what we need to heal our spirits. Whatever this problem is, it made me sad today, and caused me to wish for another moment at the Ashburton Races, just to feel once more the indelible impression of the presence of Jesus.