Monday, October 15, 2007

Live Autopsy

I recall hearing recently a grim news report of a man who had awoken in agony as the pathologist performing his autopsy took a scalpel to his face.

I imagine not many people have a corporeal awareness of their autopsy. But it provides a certain analogy for the experience of being at college:

Of being laid out,
and that which is normally hidden –
that which is integral to who you are,
but not necessarily healthy;
not necessarily pleasant to observe –
being exposed,
on display to others;
and you yourself painfully aware
that they are aware –
adding further hurt to
the rawness of the wound itself.

Here are two examples of what has already been exposed:

a) I know that I am almost certainly dyslexic and dyspraxic. For whatever reasons, my brain is not wired as it should be. I fall short, only able to do with great struggle what others do with ease. This is sin in my life, not in the sense of being a bad person (a very limited definition of sin, anyway), but in the sense of being held captive by the consequences of being a broken person in a broken world (the sort of sin Jesus’ disciples tried to pin down to something done wrong by an individual or their parents; but Jesus wouldn’t let them get away with that). And I have always refused to receive grace,* to accept help; but have built up compensating- and avoidance-mechanisms that have served me well (well enough to have a PhD in an Arts discipline). But it has taken college less than a fortnight to demolish those mechanisms, and leave me in no doubt that I must stop resisting grace, and acknowledge my brokenness. That hurt. So now I need to arrange professional assessments…

b) There are people I don’t like much, for all sorts of ignoble reasons, all kinds of petty prejudices. And with such people I tend not to make much effort, to love them, to serve them. That’s sin, in a more obvious (and no less real) sense. I’d rather not be hauled up over those prejudices by my neighbour, and my conscience, ganging-up on me; but that is what I need. That it should happen is grace. That it should happen in this safe environment is great grace.

Here is the key lesson of the forensic pathologist’s cold steel slab:

Only by thinking of ourselves as the greatest of sinners – and therefore as needful recipients of the greatest grace – can we avoid assuming that our sins are less horrid than those of our neighbour.

“Self-justification and judging others go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together.” D Bonhoeffer

*sometimes diagnoses and labels are not grace, but that is not the case in this instance.

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