LOUISE IN SUNDAY SCHOOL
My good friend Louise Broome has mental retardation. Her explanation of MR is that her mind doesn’t work like other folks’. She also has periodic bouts with mild forms of mental illness. Sometimes she must live at the state hospital infirmary. There she gets her meds straightened out and her self sorted out then returns home to her husband Fred and all the people she loves greatly.
During one of her stays at the state hospital, I visited her. I remember it was a Thursday afternoon. One reason I remember the day of the week is that Louise asked me to teach the Sunday school lesson to her and some of her friends. My initial thought was that if their cognitive skills were anything like Louise’s having a Sunday school class on a Thursday afternoon in a hospital may bring about more confusion than a gathering of wholeness. But that was just a fleeting thought, so I figured it might help wouldn’t hurt and agreed.
With great seriousness Louise spent about ten minutes first finding then inviting everyone she believed to be in need of a good Bible lesson. Within half the hour a group of half a dozen ladies had gathered and seated themselves on various close-by beds on the open ward. Louise found a wooden chair for me, and a Gideon Bible in the bedside table.
I soon got to know each of the ladies, as Louise was quick to assist with introductions. Next I asked if anyone had a favorite Bible story or passage they would enjoy studying. Louise looked at the ladies as slowly each one either shrugged their shoulders acknowledging indifference or with a shake of the head indicated a solid ‘no’. Louise then said, “Why don’t you read that love chapter from Paul. You know, the one what they like to have at fancy weddings in the church.”
Relief flooded my tight gut at the suggestion. Immediately after asking for requests, I feared someone would bring up some obscure passage, or worse, something that was not even found in the Bible. I once had a deacon, chairman of the board, who demanded I preach more sermons on the whole Bible, all the important stories that Jesus told. When I inquired as to the Jesus stores he had in mind he quoted several. All were from Poor Richard’s Almanac by Benjamin Franklin. The deacon would have none of my efforts to inform him. He later resigned his church membership and joined with another congregation. I never learned what reception he had from the receiving pastor.
When I turned to First Corinthians Chapter 13 and announced the passage I would read, Louise sat up straight, hands open, palms down on her knees. She broke the position briefly, to straighten her dress and tuck it in around her legs. Quickly she resumed the pose, almost rigid and adopted a facial expression that caused her to look as though she was either straining to hear or in pain. Her head tilted slightly to one side. She caught me staring at her. “Go ahead then, read it. Read it to us now.”
Under the circumstances, I adopted a reading and speaking style that was relaxed and casual but with enough seriousness to assure respect for what we considered God’s Word. Glancing down to catch a line or two, I would then look directly into the eyes of each of the ladies as I proceeded.
“Paul says here ‘I want to show you the greatest way of all: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have no love, I am a hollow-sounding horn or a nerve-wracking rattle.” The ladies listened intently. Some held blank stares. One lady would give me a particularly sweet smile from time to time. Louise maintained her pose and never flinched.
I read on with no change in responses. A freight train came by, just across the street from the room where we met. The noise was too much, and I waited for it to rumble out of hearing and picked up the reading where I left off. Three words into my reading, announcements blasted from a speaker directly over our heads and I waited again. Chester somebody was to return to his unit immediately. I started up and after two words the announcement was repeated. This time I waited longer, opened my mouth to speak and was interrupted a third time with the same announcement. We all got a comfortable laugh from that.
After we’d settled down, I glared at the speaker, received a few more chuckles and smiles and resumed my read. “For example, when I was a child, I was talking like a child, thinking like a child, acting like a child, but when I became an adult, I outgrew my childish ways.” Louise changed her position so quickly her chair scraped on the floor, her shoes slapped on the brown tile floor and she clapped her hands together and wrung her fingers until the knuckles turned white. All the time she smiled, no, she grinned, grinned right at me. Her head dipped to indicate I should go ahead. “Read on.” The grin widened and her eyes got bright. Her face glowed.
The reading ended with Paul’s words of encouragement, “Seek diligently for love.”
Louise was nodding her head up and down with a steady rhythm as the other ladies mostly looked at her.
“What is it Louise?” I asked. But she just waved me off. The grin remained as did the nodding. “Tell us what you are thinking. Please! Come on, talk to us.” I pleaded with her.
“No. You know all about the Bible.” She replied. “You’re the preacher. You’re s’posed to tell us what it all means.”
“That’s not the way it has to be. You know something about what I just read and I think you should tell us. That’s the way we do it at our church. You know that, Louise. Remember how we always say when we come together if there’s only two of us then each one will teach one?”
The Laubach Method for teaching people to read English had originated that slogan but it helped us a great deal in our little church where so many people were like Louise and could not read at all. By adopting that slogan as a reminder we had good give and take as each of us pulled our own weight in teaching and learning about God and the best way to live our lives. It was the way we did things in our church at home in the town of Little Hell.
After several fruitless attempts, I finally got Louise to tell us what she had learned from my reading of the Bible passage. “I saw you light up when I read the part about how Paul changed when he outgrew his childish ways. Won’t you tell us what you learned.”
Louise’s face turned red. The bouncing stopped. The grin stayed. She took a deep breath and said, “Oh…Oh…Well…It just seems plain as day. Love makes you smart.”
I pronounced the benediction.