Sunday, March 30, 2008

Autistic Christianity

I recently read an article in the March/April Edition of the Discipleship Journal entitled “Overcoming Spiritual Autism.” It caused me to think about the two grandnephews that I have who have autism and how their condition points to the condition that many Christians find themselves in.

These young guys are wonderful and yet a challenge. They use language functionally only in areas where they have a high interest that motivates them to communicate. They have a hard time looking at you face to face and often look at you out of the corner of their eye. Often change, crowds, noise, and a lack of clear boundaries (at least in their minds) can send them into fits of frustration trying to process all of the data swarming around them. Routines help to make their worlds more manageable.

Since learning about autism and the many forms it takes I’ve noticed a correlation between my autistic nephews and my own relationship with God the Father. It seems that my Heavenly Father desires to have me look full in His wonderful face. Unfortunately, I spend most of my time glancing at Him from the corner of my eye.

In Autism, Aspergers, Steven Gutstein, autism researcher and clinical psychologist differentiate between two different forms of contact, static and fluid communication.

In fluid system most people create temporary lines of communications that flow like liquid. These lines of communication include not just words, but also inflection, non-verbal (like body language and facial expressions) as well as volume. Think of how we relate with friends when we shoot the breeze at a coffee house or while watching sports.

On the other hand, in static communication there are clear boundaries. These boundaries allow you to communicate in a comfortable way. Everyone knows the rules and no one is required to converse outside of a predictable manner. Once could say that the relationship is purely functional. This type of communication is most often seen when we get in a line to order at a fast food restaurant or get in a queue at the bank. There are limits to our involvement with the people in line or even the person at the counter. We don’t need to really communicate anything other than our specific request.

Often our relationship with our Heavenly Father can best be described as a static system: “clinging to routines, uncertainty about what God wanted or how he spoke, confusion and fits of frustration when a pattern changed and I didn’t get what I expected.” Our relationship with our Father is often out-come based where I stand in line waiting to communicate my requests and desires to the person at the counter, while desperately longing for a deeper relationship. I never delve deeper into establishing a true relationship. Our relationships can be defined as a series of choreographed routines, unable to communicate our deep longing to know and be known by another. Yet God has been calling me to break the static routine and enter into a fluid relationship, to be loved and to love in a face-to-face relationship with Him.

I need to cut through the static of the world around me so that I can hear the voice of Father. When I hear His still small voice I need to learn to respond to His voice. I need to grow in knowing Him not just knowing about Him.

Needing an authentic relationship with the God of this universe, I’m

Dr. Val

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