Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Powerful Hope

One of the most common misconceptions about autism is that a person with autism does not have feelings. She feels "nothing." He lacks empathy because he cannot understand what it is like to "feel." This is not quite true. While it is true that from the outside, it may seem this way, many persons with autism actually feel too violently. (This is not to say that they have violent emotions, but rather that the power of emotion is so overwhelming as to be assaulting.)

Anyone who has unintentionally interrupted the routine of someone with autism knows this. Anyone who has turned the house upside down to find the toy train that is most meaningful or the stuffed bunny rabbit that's missing knows this.

See, the truth about autism is that many of these individuals are actually feeling their way through the world; it's all relational, both humanly and spatially. And the realities of this are so overwhelming that it is easier to go numb than to live this way. So often what you see is the numbness, for the reality of feeling in a world that pays so little attention is too heavy a burden to bear.

And this is profoundly true of our culture at large. The postmodern world runs on feelings. There is no right or wrong; it's whatever feels right or wrong to you. There is no truth or lie; it's whatever feels true to you. The only standard of a man's existence is whatever he feels that standard to be. The only judge of a woman's life is whatever she feels that it is.

To look at us, you'd say that we just don't care, that we are completely oblivious to the anything else in the world besides ourselves and our own little world. But that wouldn't be true. Most of us have just had too many feelings, been dependent upon what we feel as the basis for reality for so long that we've gone numb to feeling altogether.

But we're still, secretly, feeling our way through the world. It still feels all relational to us, both humanly and spatially.

That's why faith is poised to be so powerful. It is emotional. It is experiential. It is, to some degree, a sacred feeling, not in terms of it being only one thing but in terms of it being something that we must feel. (So in terms of a feeling sacred may be less misleading than a sacred feeling, which can so easily be misread.)

For those who live outside of the faith, the overwhelming feeling is hunger. It is ache. It is a longing for something meaningful in a world of our own construction. It is a dream of words that don't just create reality; they are real. The spiritually autistic go numb to this ache because the world makes no room for it, but it is there. Give them anything even close to a meaningful faith, and their hands will instinctively reach for it. Tenderly, slowly, with a measure of reserve and eyes unable to look, but they will reach for it.

For those who live inside the faith, the overwhelming feeling is often hope. It is confident assurance. It is faith itself. It may seem that we're living without it, but the truth is that hope burns so deeply inside of us that it becomes a violent hope; it's overwhelming. The spiritually autistic go numb to this hope because it seems dangerous here, unpredictable, unappreciated, even, but it is there. Give them anything even close to permission to hope, and their hearts will instinctively reach for it. Tenderly, slowly, with a measure of reserve and eyes unable to look, but they will reach for it.

This is just one of those beautiful hidden mysteries I've been working toward in a spiritually autistic society. We think that people just aren't feeling things any more, but that's not true. Most of our world, whether in the faith or out of it, are feeling things too violently. They're literally feeling their way through the world, but at some point, with no return on their investment, they're going numb.

And this is a shame. For here, right now, is where we are most poised to learn what it even is to feel. Here is where we are best able to learn about the hunger, to learn about the ache, to start to understand a violent hope, which, contrary to what it may sound, is a profoundly beautiful thing. It's a sacred feeling or, again, as may be even more poignant, a feeling sacred. 

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