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The grateful Aspie

Another, in my Nick King inspired series. This time, after Luke 17.11-16:

On the way to Inchcolm Abbey, a nun was walking through the region between Glasgow and Edinburgh. She was filled with the Spirit of God, giving thanks that she might serve as part of Jesus’ body on earth. As she entered a village, ten people wracked with anxiety and despair approached seeking prayers for healing. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Pray Jesus, your Master, to have mercy on us!’ When she saw them, she said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to your priests.’ And as they went, they were made calm.

Then one of them, an Aspie, feeling the calmness seeping into all the extremities of his body, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He lay down at the Nun’s feet and thanked Jesus for taking away his anxiety, his shame about needing the help of a carer and the overwhelming pressure to be independent.

He was thrilled with gratitude for the knowledge that we are all made to be interdependent and that he has an important role to play in drawing God’s people together.

Then the Nun asked, ‘Were not ten people made calm? Where are the other nine? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this one man?’ Then she said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith and God’s love have made you well.’

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who are wracked with anxiety.
  • All who seek healing.
  • All who do not recognise healing when it is given to them.
  • All who are grateful for their own sense of purpose or vocation.
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The Alert Autiste – 20th February.

Today, I am going slightly off piste, inspired by Nick King’s approach to Samaritans when seeking an answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’. I heard him speak last night and have been writing a series of Bible Story re-tellings. I hope this one might speak into and out of the Astonishing Community. I live and work in the Lothians of Scotland, so I have set my stories in places familiar to me, yet appropriate to the story.

The Alert Autiste, after John 4.

Jesus had to travel home through Gorebridge. He came to Vogrie park and was tired out by his journey, so he sat by the adventure playground to rest. It was about noon.

A teenage boy came to climb, wearing a nappy and hooting loudly. Jesus said to him, ‘Give me a drink’. The boy glanced at Jesus, laughed and continued to climb. Once sat on top of the climbing frame, the boy looked at Jesus for longer. Jesus repeated, ‘Give me a drink’, this time miming bringing a cup to his lips. The boy copied the gesture and looked all around him, but he didn’t have a drink with him. So the boy made the gesture again, then he put his fingers on his chin, bringing them in arc to his knees.

‘Good signing!’, the voice came from behind Jesus, it was the boy’s carer. He said, our boy here doesn’t speak, he’s canny though. Now he’s asking you for a drink.’

Jesus smiled, ‘Exactly as he should,’ he signalled to the boy to come, ‘I’ll give him living water.’ The carer said to him, ‘Sir, you have no water bottle, and the shop is shut. Where are you going to get that living water? It’s not nice to tease him.’

The boy was now by Jesus’ side, enthusiastically signing, ‘please’. Jesus lay his hand in blessing on the boy’s head and said, you will never be thirsty again.

The boy stood staring deeply into Jesus, then he started to search in Jesus’ pockets. He found a crumb of bread and a small bottle with a drop of wine remaining in it. He smiled handed them to Jesus and put out his hands.

Jesus offered them to him, as a priest might offer communion at an altar rail. The boy stood up, roared with laughing, kissed Jesus’ cheek and ran off. He returned with visitor after visitor to the park in tow. Dragging each and showing them how to kneel before Jesus. Each one spoke to Jesus, trying to understand what had just happened to them. Had they been attacked? Why did the boy want them here? Those who listened received communion too, offering the bread they had brought for the ducks and wine hidden in brown paper bags.

Many people in Vogrie Park believed in Jesus because of the boy’s actions. So when the carers came to him, they asked Jesus to stay with them at their home; and he stayed there for two days.

FOR REFLECTION

In what ways do you feel challenged by this story?

Does this story ring true to the spirit of the gospel?

What questions does it raise in you?

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • All who are weary from travelling.
  • All who live in this world without words.
  • All whose lives are given to caring for others.
  • All who notice details others might miss.
  • All who have infectious enthusiasm.
  • All who are willing to be led by the most vulnerable.
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Masochism and the saints…

Yesterday Sue Owen made a helpful and thought-provoking comment on Geneviève of Paris, which I would like to respond to here.

Thank you for these daily readings on the lives of different saints. I have always found it very difficult to read about some saints’ lives. Especially those that self-inflict mortification or punishment. It seems very unhealthy in mind and spirit. There seems to be enough suffering in the world without inflicting it on oneself! The Holy Spirit can be found in beauty and simplicity – so I really don’t understand why masochism is so revered in the saints. I’d appreciate your views on this. Thank you!

I think there are a number of things going on that lead to an apparent reverence for masochism in the life of the saints. It certainly isn’t something I’m trying to promote by sharing their stories.

A misleading biblical interpretation…

The early church blossomed in a Greek-speaking culture. All the ideas we can have are shaped by the language or means we have to articulate them. In Hebrew culture body and soul are inseparable. We are ensouled bodies. In Greek thinking bodies are vessels in which souls are carried for a time, before escaping to their true bodiless state. St Paul (A Hebrew living in this Greek-speaking world) used the language of body and flesh (soma and sarx) throughout his letters, contrasting them with life in the Spirit. In Paul’s letters neither body nor flesh is inherently negative in itself these are simply characteristics of being human; we are embodied, made of flesh.

When thinking about being saved however, Paul uses body and flesh as shorthand for describing how we are choosing to live. Flesh is usually contrasted with Spirit to describe whether we choose to live as if the world were created and ruled by human beings (in the realm of flesh) or in a world created and ruled by God (in the realm of the Spirit). Body is usually contrasted with psyche, asking whether we orient our being towards the outward, physical pleasures, desires and needs (definitely base considerations in Greek thought) or to the interior intellectual and spiritual concerns of prayer and learning. In strictly Christian terms these are contrasts between life lived in an earthly way or life lived according to the ways of the Kingdom of God; life lived with a heart aligned to humanity’s values or life lived with hearts aligned to the will of God.

People of a largely Greek mindset, who believed Jesus would come again soon, appear to have heard this teaching as the message that forsaking physical needs in favour of spiritual and intellectual ones is the surest path to heaven. There was a rejection of earthly society by the mothers and fathers of the desert and a desire to live on prayer alone, following the example of Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus in the Desert. These were the early monastics whose patterns others followed.

It seems to me that this developed into a kind of spiritual athleticism, which misses the main point of what Paul was talking about. I have no doubt that those who were alone for long periods of time and without food, were more likely to see visions or even have near death experiences. I don’t think this is why we revere them though.

Entering into the suffering of others…

I think fasting and self-mortification, at their most prayerful, are bodily ways of entering into the suffering of others. We fast alongside those without food, alongside those in poverty, alongside those in need of healing or too deep in mourning to eat. I believe the self-mortification was supposed to help a monastic enter into the suffering of Christ during the passion, but it is a tradition much abused. Again, I don’t think these are the reasons why people are revered, even though they were taken to be signs of someone trying to live a holy life. I entreat any readers to avoid all practice of self-harm as this is not the way we treat a beloved child of God.

My personal understanding, which has no scholarly ground to stand on…

I have included saints, within this neurodiverse community’s calendar, who amongst other things have used fasting, self-mortification and isolation in their spiritual journeys. This is not because I revere these practices, but because I see them as symptomatic of how vulnerable and broken even those we revere as holy were.

I hope you have noticed through the emphasis of the intercession pointers, where I see people disappearing into isolation through grief, I wonder at how God made them founders of communities.

I know myself, that I have a daily struggle with anxiety to go about my daily living and regularly fantasise about being able to move to an isolated island. Some days I function quite well and at other times, even the ringing of the telephone is terrifying. I often wonder why I wasn’t called to a monastic life, but that was not where God wanted me. So those entrusted to my care struggle with me as I manage my hermit-like tendencies against the public-demands of a priest’s role. (Not an uncommon story.)

When I see people starving themselves, I wonder how someone who has such a difficult relationship with food can achieve such remarkable things. I don’t mean to glorify the extreme fasting, but to say: ‘here is a person who despite feeling that they did not deserve to eat for whatever reason, was used to show the glory of God in the world’.

Self-harming is one of the most widespread problems faced by teenagers in Britain at this time. Here are people who felt just as desperate, doing much the same thing and yet they are revered as holy – not because of the self-harm (it is always an incidental to the story) but because of some amazing act of courage, love, kindness or imagination that led others to God.

I don’t know how to make this more explicit without being triggering for people. Doubtless this post is very clumsy. Any ideas readers may have are very welcome.

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God’s loving.

The story I’m going to share here comes from time spent with Con, when he was little. He’s non-verbal and part of the autistic community – an autiste, as Alan Gardener puts it. This is a moment of revelation, more about God than either Con or myself.

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2015: Con, aged 12, being Toothless the Dragon.

 

I am sitting on the floor of a blue-carpeted room, devoid of furniture, with aching muscles from trying to restrain a three-year-old boy. There’s faeces on the wall, and banana. The banana will be harder to remove.

“for the enemy as a roaring lion walks about…”

I’m beginning Compline for the seventh time this afternoon. The singing soothes him and it helps me not to tighten my grip. I’m sat with my legs crossed over his, my arms wrapped right round his little body. I’m wondering whether my eye is bruised or just sore and I wonder whether this is what it’s like for God to try to love us.

Finally, he falls asleep… blessed.