The inspiration for the community’s name comes from a little-known saint, unofficially adopted by autistes as their patron: Christina the Astonishing.
For those who don’t know Christina’s story, here’s the short version. Christina was born in Belgium in 1150 and died in 1224 at the ripe age of 74. The fact she lived to be 74 is something of a miracle in itself given the eventful life she led.
At the age of 21 or 22 she had some sort of seizure and was assumed to have died. At her funeral she levitated out of her coffin, to the ceiling of the Church. This, unsurprisingly, terrified her mourners who fled the church, with the exception of one of her sisters and the priest. These two carried on to the end of the Mass at which point the priest talked Christina into coming down from the rafters of the church. She then regaled the two with stories of having been to heaven, purgatory, and hell and from this time forward she dedicated her life to praying for the souls in purgatory.
She is recorded to have spent quite a bit of her time avoiding the smell of sin on her fellow humans by hiding in baking ovens, (whilst they were lit), at the tops of trees, and in general levitating herself away at need. She was considered either possessed by devils or miraculous in the extreme. She lived in total poverty, essentially homeless until the last years of her life when she finally agreed to settle down in the convent of one of her only friends, a woman named Beatrice.
Devotion to St Christina
St Christina has become the patron saint of those with mental illnesses and those who care for them, she is also the favoured saint for adoption as patron by the Autistic Community.
Our take on St Christina
The Astonishing Community takes St Christina’s concern for souls in purgatory and translates it into a dedication to those who are suffering in this life, here on earth.
We seek to be a neurodiverse community encompassing all people, no matter how atypically their minds or brains work.
Hopefully, when enough people are aware of the Astonishing Community, some will want to meet up in person to share times of worship together. Over food, we might talk over what it means to be part of this community in our daily lives.
Can we, for example, commit to living simple lives, allowing us to support those in real need, particularly those without homes?
We probably won’t encourage fleeing from other human beings nor practise levitation but, in the spirit of the Desert Mothers and Fathers we might encourage times of retreat from the world, allowing space to face yourself in silence, inviting God to be at work in you.
Will this community really be ‘astonishing’?
Only you will be able to say whether or not you find this an astonishing community. As its founder, I hear ‘astonishing’ as two distinct callings:
- The first is that, as a community, we are called to cultivate that sense of wonder that is the beginning of prayer. By allowing ourselves to be astonished we will soon find ourselves revealing the astonishing work of God in our lives and the lives of those whom we serve.
- The second is a call to be astonishing by truly living the life in community that Jesus calls us to. All too often I hear good people expressing a belief in God but a rejection of the Church called to be Christ’s body. The Astonishing Community seeks to include those who would not otherwise attend church but are drawn to living the life Jesus Christ calls us to, as well as regular churchgoers looking for a way to deepen their engagement with their faith. My belief is, that in so doing we become the gathered community of Christ’s body, the true meaning of church, even if we gather virtually.