Wheelchair Man Feb20

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Wheelchair Man

Don't Leave Me Now...

Photo By Luca Rossato

“The early church leaders described the Trinity … [as] an eternal dance of Father, Son, and Spirit sharing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy, and respect.” Brian D. McLaren – A Generous Orthodoxy

Most prison chapels have center aisles. This one did. Sometimes the inmates sit around the sides and back. This time they packed the front first, which was encouraging.  Last to come in was an elderly man bent over in a wheel chair.  He positioned himself in the large center aisle right in front of me. The wheelchair didn’t bother me but the permanently etched scowl on his face did.  He was just plain mean looking.  “It seems that some people have to share their misery,” I thought to myself as I surveyed the rest of the audience.

This workshop involved a lot of moving around, standing from time to time and waving our hands forming different hand-signs to identify different events in the Old Testament.  It’s a fun workshop.  For the next two hours, until lunch, we all flailed about.  Mr. Wheelchair didn’t participate – other than glare and scowl. I did my best to ignore him.

When the inmates filed back into the chapel after lunch, I was a bit surprised to see the elderly Mr. Wheelchair take up his position right up front. He evidently didn’t like his lunch because if anything, his squinty-eyed scowl was a little more intense.

I decided to start off the afternoon session by singing a few songs.  My hopes were that by having the inmates stand and sing, I’d counter any post-lunch lethargy. The first song was a praise and worship song, “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord.”  They sang it as if they had written it.  They were a good bunch of guys except for…you guessed it.

The next song was “I’ll Fly Away.”  We always have fun with this old but not worn out classic.  I usually sing the first part and have the inmates chime in on the “…I’ll fly away” part. When the chorus came around the first time, Mr. Wheelchair began to sing with the rest of us.  “I’ll fly away O glory, I’ll fly away….”  He wasn’t smiling but he wasn’t scowling either.

Photo by DTCCHC

The room was full of joy as the second chorus approached. I was too, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.  Mr. Wheelchair, full of energy now, reached down with both hands and pulled his right foot up, folded the foot-rest out of the way, then placed the foot on the floor. He repeated the process with his left foot. Still somewhat bent over, he lifted his slumped head and looked straight at me.  Then simultaneously as a smile broke on his weathered face, he began to struggle to stand.

The scene could have been out of a movie.  You know the one–the evangelist tells a wheelchair bound man to rise and walk.  He struggles as the people watch, pray, and hope.  But this wasn’t a movie…this was reality.  The music had simply gotten a hold of him and he wanted to stand.  Perhaps the song had transported him to another time, maybe a time before prison when he had sung the song full of life on two strong legs.

As he slowly struggled to stand, two inmates, one from each side of the aisle, appeared at his side.  One under each arm, they held the aged inmate up and walked him forward kicking the wheelchair back out of the way.  Time had stood still for me as I watched this scene unfold in front of me.  Everyone was singing.  I had stepped into the finale of an imaginary movie.

The elderly man was supported on one side by a young, smiling, singing, black inmate and on the other by a young, smiling, singing, white inmate.  The three of them swayed and sang to the music. This must have been a movie about all God’s children coming together.  It felt like the finale.  I fully expected credits to start rolling in thin air.  It was magical.  No…it was Sacred.  It was Holy.

Several more verses and the song ended.  The two inmates gently helped the elderly inmate back into his wheel chair.  Each lifted a foot, folded the footrest down and gently aligned ‘their’ respective foot on the rest, straightening the pant leg before patting the man on the back and returning to their seats.  Most importantly, the scene had the air of a spontaneous act of kindness rather than routine.

I knew I had witnessed a wonderful moment which expressed God’s love in a visible and memorable way. I stood silent for a beat or two longer than usual.  I wanted to absorb the moment.

The second half of the seminar had a new participant.  He didn’t stand with the rest of us, but he did all the motions and hand-signs…with a smile. I don’t know what happened to this elderly wheelchair bound curmudgeon of a man.  Was it the song itself or was it the spontaneous act of two other inmates that infused him with such vibrant life?  The picture in my mind of the three of them swaying and singing “I’ll Fly Away” is such a wonderful picture of God’s love in action that I never want to forget it.  I don’t want it to fade.  I want to replay it over and over.  For two brief choruses of an old song, three men momentarily sang their way to freedom.  It was just like the … eternal dance of Father, Son, and Spirit sharing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy, and respect.

The authors' blogs are their own beliefs in their own words. If you wish to know more about what GracePointe Church believes, visit our main site for more details.