In orphanages of the past, and even those of today in some parts of the world, another type of ghost haunts the margins of life. Little babies lie in soundless rows. They weren't always so, at first they cried just like all little babies do, from hunger, or a wet diaper, or maybe just because they wanted to be held. But after awhile when no one came to pick them up and share their life, they fell silent. They became soundless and invisible. Little ghosts gazing up at a featureless ceiling. Their hearts still beat, their lungs still drew breath, but for lack of being heard their voices went away.
We can now begin to unravel the horror that is inflicted upon the human being when it goes unnoticed and unheard. Through the study of children from hard places, researchers can tell the tale of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual damage upon a developing mind and body when a child is denied a voice. Be this through abandonment, abuse or any of a number of situations, a child who is not seen, heard, touched, held and doted on by a loving parent or caregiver simply does not become a whole person. In some sense the child just isn't "real".
The good news is that when such a child, even when they are older, even as an adult, is able to be led back through the stages of development by an understanding caregiver, they can be, as it were, reborn. Neural pathways that were once thought to be set in stone, or forever lost if not forged in early childhood, can be re-created. When the child is given a voice, is seen and heard and touched and held and guided back through those missing stages, then they can begin to become real. Just like the Velveteen Rabbit becomes "real" through the attentions of a child, an invisible ghost of a child begins to solidify into flesh and bone and become real through the attentions of a loving foster or adoptive parent.
If you are prone to notice such things, you will perhaps have begun to notice some parallels to the Christian story. Jesus, who had existed forever in loving relationship with his Father and the Spirit came "in such mean estate" and was incarnated (put on flesh and bone). Jesus became one of us, He became one with us. Jesus was sent here for one primary reason, to make all of us "real". We, who through our loss of relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit had becomes orphans without a voice, were adopted by the Father. Jesus through his death would become a hopeless, voiceless, corpse, just like those babies lying in the orphanage. But, through His resurrection, we were all reborn and through His ascension we can all be guided back through the missing stages of development as we are reunited through the bonds of adoption into fellowship with our Father through the Father's Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
A simple reading of the Gospels illustrates this story over and over from so many different angles. Paying attention to who Jesus spent most of His time ministering to speaks volumes. Jesus ministered to the Cipher's in the Snow. Jesus loved on the outcasts, the unclean, the ones without a voice, those people on the margins of society. Those ghosts haunting the brothels and bars, driven to accept their status as non-beings, were the very ones Jesus smiled at. The very ones Jesus had lunch with. Jesus didn't always touch those he healed, but if you notice he touched the lepers.
I remember back in the 80's when we were all so scared of Aids I worked as a waiter in a restaurant. One of my regulars was a gay man dying of Aids. You could see it on his body and in his eyes. He was a walking corpse. Back then it was scary stuff, but I remember when I would clear his dishes off his table something would not let me show my revulsion or fear. Something drove me to stand right beside him, look him in the eye, smile at him, talk to him and, most importantly, grab his dirty dishes firmly with both my bare hands instead of using a towel. I was no saint at the time, not by a long shot, but somehow I just knew that what he needed more than anything else was for someone to see him as a person with dignity. He needed someone to see past the ghost and the corpse and actually see him as real. Someone to listen to his words and give him a voice.
Some people, my wife chief among them, heeded the impulse to treat me like a person instead of a ghost. Jesus did the work. He provided the love and the rescue. He came to lead us back to the Father. And now that we're seated with Christ, all of us whether we know it or not, in the heavenly places, the Holy Spirit gives us those impulses to hear, to see, to incarnate the ghosts haunting the margins of the world. They're just as alive in Christ as anyone else is, but they just don't know it. Just like a child adopted from a Russian orphanage doesn't know it's alive until the adoptive parent comes and takes them home.
We, all of us who know we're alive, should stop everything we're doing. Drop everything. Sit down and think about the fact that we're actually seated at the table with Jesus. We're seated with Him at the right hand of God. We, who once were dead, are now alive. We were captives and we've been set free. We were orphans and we've been brought home to the most amazing family in the universe. We were snot nosed brats who squandered our Fathers wealth in "riotous living" and when we came back home we were welcomed with a party the likes of which have never been imagined. We shouldn't think another thought, or say another word, until the joy and freedom of that knowledge completely drives out everything else. And only then. Only when we realize just how incredibly free we actually are, and realize that nothing we ever did or ever could do would earn us our place in the Father's family. Nothing we ever did or ever could do would lose us our place in the Fathers family. Only then, out of that joy and that freedom, start to look around. Start to listen. Start to notice the ghost's and the corpses. Start to notice the orphans. Start to notice the voiceless. They're everywhere. In Beetlejuice there were two humans who had to come to realize they were actually ghosts. This world is haunted by ghost's who don't realize they're actually human.
How does an adoptive parent bring the child back to reality? By giving them a voice. By seeing them ("Mommy, Mommy, look at me!"). By holding them, and touching them, and guiding them back through the missing stages of development. The parent uses their mouth, their eyes, their hands, their feet, their whole body is poured out as a sacrifice of love for the child. Jesus does the same for all of us who've been adopted by the Father (That's ALL of us by the way). He uses all the parts of His body just like the adoptive parent. But think about it, His body is you and his body is me. His body is that whole body of people who realize they're alive in that freedom and that love.
The Author of Cipher in the Snow was a teacher in the boys' high school. It was discovered that the boy had listed this teacher as his favorite teacher. The teacher sadly realized that he had hardly known the boy existed. He ends his story with the following words.
I've never forgotten Cliff Evans nor that resolve. He has been my challenge year after year, class after class. I look for veiled eyes or bodies scrounged into a seat in an alien world. "Look, kids," I say silently. "I may not do anything else for you this year, but not one of you is going to come out of here as a nobody. I'll work or fight to the bitter end doing battle with society and the school board, but I won't have one of you coming out of there thinking himself a zero."Somehow I think the consummation of all things won't be until Jesus' body, his whole body, refuses to let a single person come out of here thinking themselves a zero. If that takes another hundred years, or even another thousand, it will nevertheless be so. For that light is the light of all people and the darkness will not overcome it.