Archive for December 8th, 2014

The prophetic role of persons with developmental disability

Wolf Wolfensberger † Feb. 27, 2011Wolf Wolfensberger, in the book The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger, by William C. Gaventa & David L. Coulter, Haworth Pastoral Press, 2001:

Mentally retarded people play a uniquely prophetic role in this age.

Wolfensberger pioneered normalization and social role valorization in the field of mental retardation. He feels this age has made an idol of technology, and that it is not only out of control, but now has the potential to destroy the human race in numerous ways.

The systems we are creating escape the human capacity of management. [He sees it as another version of the Tower of Babel, one] God is about to confront.

God will do this through the simplicity and gentleness of mentally retarded people, whose lives are the very antithesis of the idol of progress. He tells some astonishing stories which he sees as prophetic, such as the very severely retarded man, who, beyond his level of capability, said, “This is my body.”

God has chosen the foolish things of the world [. . .] to bring to nothing the things that are (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

(from “St John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disability: Patristic Inspiration for Contemporary Application” by William Gall)

MORE OF WOLFENSBERGER’S INSIGHTS ON THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE GIVEN BY PERSONS WITH COGNITIVE DISABILITIES , from “Disabled Christianity” a blog by Jeff McNair, Special Ed professor at Cal Baptist University (Aug. 23, 2005):

The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger 1 & 2

“So I asked myself, what are the prophetic signs which appear to be unique or very special to our day, which are very different from what they have been at other times. . . Where and how is the Spirit active today in a way that is different from the way it may have been in other eras?
As I posed these questions to myself over the past few years, I began to read both the signs of dysfunctionality and of prophecy in a different and clearer fashion, and I read one very, very powerful prophetic message, coming from mentally retarded people. For instance, I considered that it should not be unexpected if divine messages about the present patterning of offenses should come from people who, in their roles and identities, are exactly the opposite of what our era idolotrates. Who and what is the opposite? The opposite is a person who is not intellectual, not scientific, not technological, and not academic; who does simple instead of complex things; who cannot cope with complexity, and technology which passes him by; and who, possibly, is despised for lack of modernity and intellectuality. Is that not the retarded persons of our age?
But if it is, is there any evidence that God has thrust retarded people into a prophetic role? I submit to you that there is indeed . . .

The article goes on to list 10 signs to substantiate the possibility that persons with cognitive disability are indeed carrying a prophetic message.

-Mentally Retarded Persons are Becoming Much More Public and Visible
-Retarded People are Becoming Internationally Known
-Non-Handicapped and Handicapped Persons are Sharing Their Lives, Often Living Together
-Retarded Persons are Gentling Others
-The Prophetic Manifestation of the Presence of God via Retarded People
-Retarded People Speaking in Tongues
-Retarded People may Withstand Their Culture
-Retarded People May Be Parodying Intellectualism
-The Dance of Spiritual Joy
-Retarded People Are Beginning to Be Persecuted and Martyred

(The “speaking in tongues” refers to instances when persons with cognitive disability who usually speak very little and even then very unclearly say something very clearly that is profound, such as “This is my Body.” The martyrdom referred to is the high percentage of unborn children found to have disabilities that are aborted. Some of these prophetic signs remain unclear to me. A more thorough re-reading Wolf Wolfensberger would probably help clear some of them up.)

From my prior reading of the book I do remember that many of these impressions Wolf received that people with developmental disability are prophetic to our age came from experiences with L’Arche community gatherings. L’Arche is a worldwide community, Roman Catholic in origin but now encompassing many other kinds of Christians (including a few Orthodox Christians) in which people without developmental disabilities share their lives with those with developmental disabilities- living together.

This is not an Orthodox mission, and there are no Orthodox missions like it that I know of , though in the monastic vision of St. Basil the Great, which included service to needy people, there would be a place for something like it. Until it happens, in the meantime, the challenge remains to incorporate the gifts of people with disabilites- prophetic or otherwise- into our parish families.

The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger 



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