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Health / Religion

The Disillusion of Disability and Religion

Why can't you just accept me for who I am?

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Written by Sarah Bondy.


A memory suddenly comes to me like a neuro gut punch, flooding my synapses, and I grasp and whisper, “Holy Shit”. 

This memory is of me at the age of- I think nine. I lay in bed waiting for my dad to tuck me in. 

He comes in holding a ceramic flask with The Virgin Mary on the front, and my “electrodes”.  

I know it as a TENS machine. He sits on my bed, saying, “Grandma got this holy water from Međugorje in Portugal, she says it will heal you.” My father starts rubbing the holy water on my legs tentatively. 

Why can’t you just accept me the way I am! I am your granddaughter! God is not going to ‘fix’ me!”

I look on as an unexplained pit grows in my stomach, my expression unreadable. I know deep down that this feels wrong, and I do not like it, but being young and not having the courage to voice my displeasure to my grandmother, I say nothing. As I look back on it as an adult now, I know what I was screaming inside, “Why can’t you just accept me the way I am! I am your granddaughter! God is not going to ‘fix’ me!”

I want to take this opportunity to say that in no way do I think that the actions of my grandmother and my father were done with any sort of malice, just misguidance.

I guess this would be a good time to tell you that I was born with a disability called Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder that affects the nerves in my body, which, therefore, affects my muscles. I am unable to walk- I use an electric wheelchair and a ceiling lift as mobility aids. Anyway, back to the memory: 

After the holy water, my dad applied electrodes to my legs and turned the dial to the prescribed setting, made sure I was as comfy as possible, and said goodnight. The electrical current coursing through my muscles was both painful and jarring. All this in the name of religion and science. This TENS machine was supposed to strengthen my muscles, all it did was cause me pain and weaken me so much I could not stand in the morning, another “cure” abandoned. I have gone through so many other operations throughout the years, some have helped and some have not, and those are the frustrating ones.

Still, on another level I can’t help but feel “creeped out” by the tale, taking the child to church to exorcise the demon known as disability.

The second memory bubbles up from the long-forgotten depths of my mind. In this memory, I recall a story my grandmother told me; In this story, my mother, father, and grandparents took me to a “healing mass.” At this mass, I was laid upon the altar, and prayers were said over me, everyone around me willing the disability to leave my body, there was a candle on the altar representing the light of God. It is at this point in the story that my grandmother tells me that I was mesmerized by the light of the candle, never taking my eyes off of the flame; then, all of a sudden, I cooed. I don’t know how to feel about this story, on the one hand, I can see that this story was meant to be one of solace and happiness, and outwardly I smile. Still, on another level I can’t help but feel “creeped out” by the tale, taking the child to church to exorcise the demon known as disability.

A third and final memory comes to me, I am at my grandmother’s house for a sleepover or what we would both call “vacations,” it is bedtime and I am being tucked in, part of being tucked in at grandma’s house is saying nightly prayers after we go through the list of all the people in our lives that we want to give blessings to my grandmother speaks up. She says, “And Jesus, please help Sarah get better, Amen” All of sudden I feel very sad, a prayer that was meant to give me a sense of happiness and peace has had the opposite effect. It has made me feel conflicted, a bit angry, but mostly sad; All at once a sentence  blazes inside my head, “

“Why can’t you just accept me for who I am?” All at once, these flashes of memories stop, and I am left whirling.

What brought on these memories, you ask? 

There are many religious communities around the globe proclaiming to be everything that we as a people have been looking for, in my opinion, all we have been looking for is something quite simple: Acceptance.

I recently attended a webinar on disability activism and spirituality, one of the speakers was a Rabbi who was also born with Cerebral Palsy, and she was talking about how her disability and religion influenced her life and her activism. She also drew parallels between Christianity and her Jewish faith, which also shared a lot of the same stories, with one significant difference- in my version of Christianity/Catholicism, there is a substantial emphasis on healing and being made “whole.” 

In contrast, when exploring the Jewish faith, there is hardly any mention of “healing” at all. Rabbi Julia Watts Belser references a story in the Book of Revelation where a prophet sees a warrior come down from the sky in a chariot with “wheels of fire;” In the words of Rabbi Julia Watts Belser, “God had wheels.” When I heard that, I smiled, and a great weight was lifted off my chest. There are many religious communities around the globe proclaiming to be everything that we as a people have been looking for, in my opinion, all we have been looking for is something quite simple:

Acceptance. 

Is there a Heaven? I don’t know. All I know is that if there is, I will be going there being me.


About The Author

Sarah Bondy hails from Canada. She is an avid reader and avid lover of the arts, which just a fancy way of saying that she watches a lot of TV and Netflix. She also poetry when the mood strikes. She also is very passionate about the topics of disability and sexuality, and disability justice.


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