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“Those that we call monsters are not so to God”

January 21, 2012

A friend I made through my personal blog sent me a link a while ago to an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Emily Rapp, a memorist-mother whose toddler son, Ronan, is dying of Tay-Sachs disease. If you click over to the link, you will see what an almost-celestially beautiful child he is; nevertheless, the progression of his disease means that he is losing all of his senses and his abilities — by this time, he has become blind — and that he will likely die in a vegetative state before his third birthday.

I check Emily Rapp’s blog, Little Seal, occasionally (her son’s name, Ronan, means “little seal” in Irish), and found a powerful post there the other day which alludes to Michel de Montaigne’s essay “Of A Monstrous Child,” in which the Renaissance humanist describes  a grotesquely-deformed toddler whom he met on the streets of Paris, being exhibited by his caretakers as a begging lure. In the end, Montaigne surprises the reader by concluding that it is the shock and horror that men express when they encounter something so outside of the ordinary that is contrary to nature, and not the thing itself. As Rapp notes:

The burden . . .  falls on the looker, and the looker is held accountable for the lens through which she sees – and sorts – the world. I love the way Montaigne makes that child . . . extraordinary in the truest sense: brilliant and shiny.  The thing you want most to pick up when it glints at you from the street. The man born blind in the Gospel of John did not exist to make people feel grateful for their vision; the text is very clear that he, in fact, possessed the vision that others did not. That his was a looking that saw wonder, saw God, when others did not.

Rapp also references a politician who has stated publicly, as she puts it, that “disabled children are a woman’s punishment for having abortions in her sullied, slutty, ho-bag past.” There is no comment worthy of this perversion of the Christian proclamation, but it is germane to note that it directly contradicts the passage in the Gospel of John mentioned above:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

As Rapp says of the man born blind, “His body was not a punishment; it was a kind of divine revelation.”

This reminded me of the assertion of Gerard Nadal, bioethicist and father of an autistic child, that the huge spike in autism diagnoses is taking place so that we may truly learn how to love. It reminded me, also, of the passage in Saint Faustina’s diary in which she suggests that God the Father regards the world and its creatures through the wounds of His Son. May we learn to look at each other that way, too.

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3 Comments
  1. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    January 21, 2012 1:32 pm

    Thank you Pentimento. I am reminded of the tragedy that the vast majority (I have numbers upwards of 90%) of all children diagnosed with Down Syndrome in utero are aborted. Clearly the parents are seeing such children, not as God sees them, but through their fears and the prejudices of the world around them.

  2. January 22, 2012 5:51 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this post, Pentimento. What is interesting about the blind man from birth story is that God’s glory was not revealed UNTIL the man was healed. Also, the man didn’t just have to suffer years and years of social exclusion, but also his parents. I am quite conflicted on this story because what about those who God chooses not to heal? I suppose then that God has a different plan? Maybe the conversion of those who are around the social outcasts? I don’t know. But this story also encourages because God specifically created the man as is for that one moment in time.

  3. Pentimento permalink
    January 22, 2012 8:01 pm

    In the passage from John, Jesus suggests that God’s plan for the man born blind was, from his very conception, that he be healed by the Messiah, and thereby demonstrate the works of God. But this doesn’t mean that those who seem to remain unhealed do not also demonstrate the works of God. There is a lovely Jewish prayer to be said upon “seeing exceptionally strange-looking people or animals”:

    Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe,
    who makes the creatures different.

    (See http://home.comcast.net/~judaism/Siddur/transliterations/daily/ber_praise.htm#witness)

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