The final hallmark of a spiritually autistic society is its quiet engagement with the sacred. One of the common misunderstandings about a physically autistic individual is that they are not engaged in this world, that they are somehow living apart from it, that whatever goes on here doesn't much affect them or doesn't make much sense to them. But the the truth is that an autistic person doesn't miss much.
The same is true of the spiritually autistic.
Those around us who we think are most disengaged are, in fact, not missing much. Their eyes are wide open; they have to be. The burning hope within them won't let them close their eyes, even if they can't seem to make contact with faith. Because of their heightened sensitivities, they are exceedingly aware. It's just that we have not yet figured out how to tap into what they know.
This is not unlike autism in general, in which many of those who are blessed with this condition harbor incredible secret gifts. It can take awhile to figure out the beautiful that is borne within them, but when we do...wow. Some autistic persons can sit down at a piano and just let music flow out the tips of their fingers. Some can pick up a paintbrush and create a stunning image with seemingly little effort. Some can sing. Some can do math. Some can shoot pool. Some can fix cars. Some can build things. Some can...you get my point.
Some of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard have come from the spiritually autistic, those it would be easiest to think would have no idea how to pray. Some of the most amazing worship I have ever engaged in has been led by the spiritually autistic. Some of the most pointed biblical exposition I have ever read has been written by the spiritually autistic.
And what's even more than that, what is perhaps most impressive when we think in terms of an autism in particular, is that the most beautiful communities that I have ever been a part of have at their core a spiritually autistic individual, someone we would be led precisely to believe knows nothing about humanity, nothing about relationship, and nothing about community.
This is, perhaps, the best-kept secret of autism. It is not that these persons are so disengaged as to have no community at all; it is often that they are so deeply engaged as to have the largest community. It seems they play no favorites and have no profound attachment to one person or another, but this does not mean they do not have attachment to persons at all. On the other hand, I know autistic individuals who are keenly aware of their communities and will even say, "I have had a completely fulfilling social experience simply by sharing the same space with you."
This doesn't make sense to most of us, but we have to figure out how to understand it. We have to figure out how to tap into these hidden gifts that make the spiritually autistic around us so poignant. Herein lie the gifts of the Spirit. Herein lie the sacred things. They are so disengaged from the world as to be profoundly engaged in it, with all the holy things in the depths of the spirits. If we do not understand, it is not because they have not told us; it is because we have not heard.
We have not figured out how to listen, and it is to our detriment. We have not figured out how to communicate, and that's our burden. We have not figured out how to create the spaces in which the spiritually autistic flourish, and so they are growing outside of us, carrying holy treasures in clay pots that we'd far rather sell at a dime a dozen than to pour out on our altars as living sacrifices. And we are wrong.
We. are. wrong.
We are not, as the argument that began this discussion goes, living in a spiritually illiterate world. No, those around us know the sacred quite well. We are living indeed in a spiritually autistic world, and it is we who have fallen short. For though they are speaking the language, we have not figured out how to hear it. When we do, we will uncover a vein of tremendous beauty that runs through our unspoken world. There is something sacred going on here. Were that our eyes were as open as theirs to see it.