I saw him from a block away. He perched precariously in a motorized chair, his body slight like a child’s, hardly weighing 50 pounds in his maturity. I counted three serpentine bends in the arm that reached out to guide his odyssey, and my heart sank at the writhing distress that was this man’s whole existence. His limbs twisted like a contortionist’s. Even his face was beyond his control, gripped by grimaces many times a minute.
When I was in my 20s I glimpsed the truth that we all wear the face of Christ in a unique way and that what we do unto anyone else we literally do unto ourselves. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to remember that. Here are some things that help make it a habit.
A few years ago I hiked the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my family. What I had not shared with anyone was that for weeks I had been suffering from an ingrown toenail in my big toe. After a couple of hours my toe was throbbing. I could hardly walk and was slowing down the group. The children were getting frustrated. Finally, my brother stopped and said, “Sit on that rock and give me your boot.”
One misty autumn morning I was taking a walk around a pond next to a retreat center. I let my intellect take a vacation and just gazed at what was before me. The clear water, the thick woods beyond, the steep, grassy hill, each took me in and held me until I was transported to an easy peace. I felt a trace of that “thin veil” Celtic lore uses to describe situations when the visible and the invisible mesh.
"Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men's faces." -- Gerard Manley Hopkins
How easy it is to see the face of Christ in the eyes of a baby or the limbs of a child racing a kite or the features of a movie star. The key to eternal life is to behold the loveliness of Christ in the eyes of a child born blind, the limbs of a teenager with cerebral palsy, the features of a woman scarred with burns. The truth is -- the beauty is -- each wears the face of Christ and they all play as one.