The Third World Poor - A Summer Series of Reflections (1)

Encountering God the Muteness, the Deafness and the Blindness

Poverty comes in different shapes, colors, sizes, faces - and disabilities. In April 2017, by the Indian Ocean in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, in the Missionaries of Charity home for the poor founded by Mother Teresa, I met a middle-aged, tall and good-looking man. Immediately I was drawn to his cheerful, sunlit disposition, but the charming smile quickly gave way to his incomprehensible utterances, animated hand gestures and a desperate need to communicate. The man was both mute and deaf.  A couple of days later, I noticed him lying in bed alone in the empty dormitory, withdrawing from activity and meal, looking glum and self-absorbed. His signature smile had evaporated in the grilling heat of summer. I wanted him to know I had noticed his mood shift and that I did ‘see’ him. In light of his disabilities, I thought to be seen would be significant; but getting across to him my empathic seeing presented a challenge for me.  Eventually when the dark clouds had parted, I drew him both a sad and a happy face with an arrow signaling the movement. When he later joined two other men and me in throwing and catching a ball, showing his finesse in giving the flying object a dynamic spin, radiating mirth and aliveness, pride and joy, I knew his usual sunny self was back.

In East Africa four months earlier, in December 2016, in Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia, I encountered this small, young adult who was blind. Because he struck me as fragile, helpless and almost invisible, I was stirred by the Spirit to be more attentive to him, “one of the least of these brothers”. After the early cold morning shower, he would usually squat on the floor with his arms wrapping around himself to brace the cold, waiting for assistance. Quickly I dried and clothed his shivering body, helping him to get up to go to the dining room. Surprisingly that was a poignant experience: His hands gripping tenaciously to mine, as if holding on to his dear life, while all of me became his seeing eyes; as if we were in a slow dance, silently and cautiously moving across the wet, slippery tiles, connecting through our hands in a subtle, hidden yet personal, trusting way, pulsating wordlessly.

How do I enter into the world of blindness, muteness and deafness heavily layered with radical poverty? Often I am caught by a wave of intense sadness and grief through the sensory onslaught around me, bobbing in the oceanic suffering of humanity. By being fully in the here and now, while holding with openness what simply is, I have come to pain. As I get close to my brother, eyeball-to-eyeball, I sometimes get choked up while fighting back tears at the same time. Then God’s grace expands my capacity to love which is cloaked in a deep sense of identifying, empathizing and suffering with the poor. As a bearer of my brother’s messy burden, in spite of my instinctive wish to scrap it, I welcome pain. However to become pain is the epitome in this progressive journey, when suffering is embodied, is part of the divine DNA, and is no longer a sterilized object to be studied - just as the Word became flesh. Finally, as Jesus became human brokenness – muteness, deafness and blindness - on the cross, so he had overcome all pain, transforming and transcending it; the rest merely a mop-up of human agony. I want to follow Jesus’ life in serving the marginalized locally in the women’s shelter and the radically poor globally in the Third World.

On the morning I was leaving Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka, the mute and deaf man expressed his goodbye: With hands he gestured a flying plane in the sky, matched by an engine sound and delivered with a sad facial expression. We hugged affectionately in silence which spoke eloquently and elegantly. We had made a visual and tactile connection though it was a speck in the huge hush of his soul. Somehow in the week he had let me in and I him as well, doing so without an utterance of a single word. He allowed me to see and feel both his joy and pain which I allowed to affect me personally, baring my heart’s vulnerability and my eyes’ mistiness. The souls of both the server and the served were deeply touched, gazing at each other, and standing on holy ground. The God in him and the God in me had met, laced with and graced by divine love; especially sublime was my encounter with God the Muteness, the Deafness and the Blindness. Reflecting in awe, God the Mystery had once again woven together this outer work of compassion with an inner life of contemplation, which ambience and texture I will invite you to peer into in the next part of the series.

Ernest C. Yau                                                                         
 July 4, 2017                                                                                   
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.