God's kingdom is comparable to the 'surprise of recognition'
I most often find the Kingdom of God in the surprise of recognition.
In my work as program manager at a group home where eight men with mental retardation live, one man with Down Syndrome developed Alzheimer's disease. His name was Carl, and his decline was rapid.
As Carl reached the point where he no longer understood our words, I advised the staff that how we approached Carl was now very important. He might not be able to understand our words, but he would be keenly sensitive to our affect - our mood, tone and pace. I asked us to be gentle and to remember to always smile.
At the end of each day, Carl would arrive back home from "Day Habilitation" by mid-afternoon. We would greet him warmly, give him a snack and something to drink and then help him out of his wheelchair and into a recliner. There, he could put his feet up and rest before the fuss of dinner with nine other people. It was there, in that reclined position, that Carl taught me about living in the Kingdom of God.
I was nearing the end of a frustrating day when I noticed Carl alone in the living room with his feet up in the recliner, and I sat in the chair next to him.
At first he did not notice me. I poked Carl gently on the thigh. He did not respond. I poked him again. He moved to push my hand away. I poked him again. He looked at me, finally - a bit irritated. I smiled at him and said, "Hi Carl." Yet still he said nothing. It was as if he did not see me. Clearly he did not know who I was. I continued to hold his gaze with mine, smiling.
All of a sudden, it was as if the fog lifted and Carl recognized me.
He probably did not remember my name nor why I was poking at him, but I believe he recognized me as someone he trusted. His look was one of great surprise, as if he had just opened a fabulous gift - one both unexpected and perfect. His surprise at seeing me also surprised me greatly.
We sat there, gleaming at each other with the surprise of recognition, and then we both laughed. Carl then reached out for a hug, and I was happy to oblige.
There is much delight in the surprise of recognition.
Where do we find the Kingdom of God in our lives? How do we bring the Kingdom of God closer into being? It is not in bombing other countries into democracy. It is not in denying citizens all of the rights of citizenship. It is not in finding new ways to divide people against each other.
We find the Kingdom of God when we are open to the surprise of recognizing the presence of God not only in ourselves, but also in the unsuspecting others among us.
Kathleen Kopitsky, a graduate of UCC-related Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts, is a residential program manager for Minute Man Arc in Concord, Mass.