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St. Luke in the Kingdom of God

Series: Lives of the Saints

I never saw much of Saint Luke. He was a cloistered man, spending most of his days muttering to himself, brooding his reflections on past conversations. He tasted words, even as he slept. He was a short man, with the unmistakable potato-like quality of good American breeding and bad American food. He’d often sit in front of the television, whiling away the hours by watching the same animated movies again and again, quietly rehearsing the conversations of the last week. More than all that, he was my friend and flat mate. That was before he ran away.

We were living together, he and I, along with two grad students, in a squat little refurbished house in the Kingdom of God. It was a place for the loose screws of society to get together so Christian magazines could write articles about “living in community with persons with intellectual disability.” Most people call it Friendship House. Language has never been kind to word-tasters like Saint Luke. I’d explain that my housemate was a great guy who “had” Downs Syndrome, like it was a disease we’d yet to cure. Folks would congratulate me, like I was providing palliative care. The Kingdom of God tried to change this. I was given the title “friend resident,” and given the mission to “live in community.” The phrase posed some difficulty in being so intentionally nebulous. I was a student, often lived alone, and had spent the past few years in apartments where nobody knows anybody’s neighbour. Such confusion, when mixed with a busy schedule and the inevitable processes of time, so often creates a kind of spiritual laziness. I’d sit, quietly writing or watching a movie, and listen to Luke in his room, digesting a choice bit of dialogue with the ghost of his brother. Occasionally he’d come out to get more milk, as he drank close to a gallon a day out of a wine glass. I’d ask him how his day was.

“Huh? Good good good,” he’d intone dismissively. I wouldn’t pursue the matter. The unkindness of words was present between us. I “have” Asperger’s, and he “has” Down’s. I’d categorize terms, obsess over each letter. He ate syllables, let them flow down like chips in the cookie dough he loved so much. Eventually conversations became commands, as silence and uncomfortability made our friendship a working relationship. If we talked, it would be to remind him to sweep the floor. The worst times were the wake-up calls. Saint Luke liked to stay up with his movies, and sleep like the dead through the morning. This was fine, unless he had a morning meeting, which would necessitate the ordeal of an hour banging on his door and shouting for him to get up. I never meant to be cruel, but there is a terror in such invasions. I was a hygienic marauder: entering into personal, holy spaces and sterilizing any sense of love or safety that could grow there.

 

A hope you can taste
And then one day, he’d had enough. Maybe I should of seen it coming. After commanding a particularly hard day’s chores for Saint Luke, I went off to sleep the sleep of the self-justified, and he loaded up two duffel bags and walked out. The cops found him four hours and 10 miles later. He wanted to go home, to his parent’s. The folks at the Kingdom of God like to practice something called “positive framing.” Thus it was not a failure; it just wasn’t a good fit for Luke. We did the best we could. The framing was to crop out any fault or blame, but it also cut out any chance to give a voice to grieving. The house was barren without Luke, empty as a cleanly-licked cookie dough Tupperware tin.

Sometimes, we lose saints. Even the Kingdom of God suffers the occasional disciple to kick the dust from his feet and look for other cities. Yet it is exactly in such moments when hope becomes something you can touch, even taste. I know that there will always be a little empty place in my stomach for the words and presence of that stammering saint. I feed it with prayers for Saint Luke, and I have over time starved out all the regrets, save one. I wish that, instead of building our relationship on the sandy shores of language, St. Luke and I could have tended a rock garden together. We could have watered the trees in silence, and enjoyed the fruits of our labour through touch, and smell, and full stomachs, in a place where “good good good” was all that God needed to say.

  • Evan Underbrink is an instructor of Theology and Church History at the New Testament School of Theology in Greensboro, North Carolina, as well as a freelance writer and poet. He holds a Master’s in Theological Studies from Duke Divinity School and a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Whitworth University.

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