Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Mystics

The Mystics

I do not know what I know. Nor do I know as much
as I suspect that I know.
Reading through a scattering of Christian mystics this summer, I've been challenged to rethink what I believe, what I do, and why. In that process of re-perceiving and re-acting my faith, I have wondered how much of my learnings should stay with me, informing who I am as a Christian, and which -- if any -- might be good to share with you. Here are just a few:

1) God is bigger than my imagination. In addition, my experience (and knowledge) of God is limited. I do not know what I know. Nor do I know as much as I suspect that I know.

2) If I really desire to experience the presence of God, I must work on identifying what is and what is not me, letting go of all the stuff I carry around, the stuff that burdens me and blocks me from actually seeing (let alone, knowing) God.

3) From time to time, it's not a bad idea to let go of all the traditionally pious practices – spiritual mourning, loving prayer, physical suffering, confession, study of the Gospel, simplicity, solitude, child-like adoration and worship – in order to simply express and experience love of God, in God’s presence.

4) Finally, if I cannot find God, it may be that I’m looking in the wrong places. If God's presence is as simple as a kiss, the breath of another, a challenging conversation, then I might be able to find God – and especially the love of God – by intermingling my life with the lives of my friends.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spiritual Autism

It is a gift that sets aside our initial and limited physical sensations and that opens us to a super-sensual experience of God’s creation, of God’s people, of God’s nature.
Gifted children often carry extra burdens. For instance, during my years as a facilitator of gifted and talented programming, I found that the most intelligent students at my school were also – in many cases – the most likely to be diagnosed with depression, ADD, autism and a variety of anxiety disorders. I worked to meet the needs of each but found that I had a special ability to relate to the experience of children on the autistic spectrum. I could get “inside their heads” and help them to make important connections. I was frequently asked to meet with such students outside of the classroom. One of these students taught me an important spiritual lesson.

I met with this boy each week. He was intelligent. He was curious. But he was also different from his peers. He struggled to make and maintain eye contact. He missed (or misinterpreted) social cues. He experienced great difficulty discerning the difference between what is intentional and what is unintentional. He had only limited language for his feelings. In fact, this boy’s biggest problem was that his inability to name his feelings made it almost impossible for him to process and resolve them. Instead, he had “meltdowns.” In our meetings, we would explore the events of his day. I asked questions, looking for emotional buttons. I knew I’d found just such a button when this boy refused to answer a question. And I didn’t let up when he shut down. I worked at getting a response – any response – tears, a clenched fist, yelling. Then we would analyze his experience. How did his face feel? His hands? His shoulders? His stomach? Hungry? Tight? Bloated?

“I don’t know,” he would say. “It just hurts.”

“Does it hurt because . . .” I would ask, listing a number of reasons derived from what he’d shared. We negotiated. By the end of our conversation, he had named a new internal experience. On a good day, he had also come up with strategies he could try the next time he had this feeling. I was giving this boy words for his emotional and social experience. I was trying to be a sensitive ear and an honest mouth for him.

Jacob Boehme, a 17th-century shoemaker (and Christian mystic), suggests in one of his books, “Breaking the Chains,” that God can teach us to do this kind of work.

For God.

We can actually, really, physically be God’s body, God’s “eternal hearing, seeing, and speaking.” God can hear and see through us. But this hearing and seeing isn’t a kind of therapy we offer God. Instead, it is a miraculous opening, given to us by God, that we might see and hear what God sees and hears. It is a gift that sets aside our initial and limited physical sensations and that opens us to a supersensual experience of God’s creation, of God’s people, of God’s nature. And when we give ourselves up to God, we let God become a sensitive ear and an honest mouth. We let God open for us the mysteries that we otherwise miss, that otherwise overwhelm us because of our own spiritual autism.