There's an argument being made that we're living in a world that is spiritually illiterate, that our world at large no longer comprehends the language of God or knows much about it. The conclusion is that what is required of us as the church is a spirituality that does not depend upon literacy; we are driven back into the days when our stories must be told through art and sacred spaces, through stained glass windows and altars and incense.
In many respects, when diving into the evidence offered for such an argument, it's rather convincing. I think the world is tired of our words; they're looking for something more tangible of our faith. No longer does it make any sense when we talk about grace, for we are not good at showing it. The word, itself, is meaningless.
But as I let some of these ideas roll around in my own mind, I quickly came to the conclusion that I'm not so sure that we're living in a spiritually illiterate world; I think it runs much deeper than that.
I think we're living in a spiritually autistic world.
We are living in a time that is socially overwhelming, where we have forgotten how to connect as true community because we are some measure of connected "all the time." We are living in a world that cannot look faith in the eye, for a variety of reasons, and this inability to look faith in the eye has left us looking away from the Cross. We're living in a world where we are overloaded and overwhelmed, not just by theological ideas such as love and hate and hope and grace, but by all the empty noise of the faithful, all the dirty hands that don't feel the blood dripping from them, all the taste of bitter grapes and stale bread. We are living in a world that is beyond our capacity to integrate or to interact. And we are suffering for it.
There is so much about autism in general, and even a spiritual autism, that we don't understand yet. There's so much that we can't quite put our finger on - what it means, how it develops, what's going on in the world that is locked away from this one where those for whom autism is a reality truly live. Any one of us, whether we are on the spectrum ourselves or love someone who is, can only speak personally into this, knowing that our experience is not universal; every experience of autism is unique.
But what we do know is this: buried in the depths of the autistic soul is something magical. Anyone who has ever loved someone can tell you that. Autistic persons overwhelmingly have these amazing spirits and these incredible gifts, tucked away in the recesses of these places that don't make sense to most of us. They have a way of seeing the world that is different. They have a way of interacting with it that is unique. They have a way of knowing things that most of us just sit back and say, Man, I never would have seen it.... Those that seem, to most of us, to live in abject darkness often have their eyes most wide open to the light.
We just have to figure out how to communicate with them.
And this is, I guess, an illiteracy, but not on their part; the illiteracy is ours. We are so trapped in our language that we cannot understand what does not use words. But we must. Oh, we must. We must figure out how to communicate with those whose experience of the world is not locked into language, but into something much deeper. We have to figure out how to look into (not look at, but look into) those who cannot seem to make eye contact with us. We have to begin to understand what language can never teach us. For herein lies some wondrous beauty. Herein lies some incredible faith.
Spiritual illiteracy seems like a daunting challenge; spiritual autism seems like an impossible one. But neither is the case. Like the stained glass windows of old, we build our faith anew in fragments and fractals of color and light that come together to tell a story to eyes wide open, unable to look us in the eye though we are unable to look away.