For anyone expecting an invocation of the Heavenly Powers to step in and rescue us from the dreadful specter of autism, we apologize. Our post this week begins with a gerund, not an adjective. Our intent is to suggest ways that prayer for autism might be healed. Why? Ask any autistic. There are few things which feel more alienating than having someone approach us with such pity that they feel it necessary to plead with the very fabric of the universe to fix what went wrong in the making of us… to cure us of the things that seem so frightfully different… to step in on our behalf – because, somehow, we are impaired to such a drastic extent that we can’t see or make these requests for ourselves.
Exaggeration for effect? Or brutal honesty? Perhaps a little of both. And most definitely not a condemnation of intercessory prayer. The gesture of praying for one another is a beautiful and life-giving aspect of community and belonging. It is foolish to say at any moment that we are not in any need of prayer, as we all have some need or another – and prayer, in its purest form, is both conveyance of gratitude and acknowledgement of our interdependence. But it happens, more often than not, that autistic people find offers of prayer more jarring than encouraging. For that matter, any manner of disability runs the risk of being marginalized by prayer.
Why is this so? Scripture contains many references to disability and disabling conditions. The language is stark and candid: a man born blind; a woman with a hemorrhage; a crippled beggar. The disabled have their own community within the bigger community, even with a well-defined manner of livelihood (even if only begging in the temple courtyard). When Jesus arrives in the story, he brings a supernatural gift of healing – the long-awaited sign of God among us. How does He go about this healing? He does not do so from superiority or pity from above. He asks first. He listens. He responds to what the person wants or seeks. He forgives sins.
---- Forgives sins? Yes. And He also casts out demons, in some instances. We are not looking to go down the theology of each of these, nor to deny the literal reality of both. Yes. Jesus did both of those. But it is extremely important to recognize that He did not do so in every case. He did so when it was called for. Yet we should not overlook the significance of each of these examples. When Jesus forgives sins, He is not stating that the sinful behavior of the person being healed caused any particular malady. He is, however (… at the risk of oversimplifying theology), starting with psychological and emotional healing that, in the spiritual life, takes precedence over physical impairments. How many of us live in anger and unhappiness because of the stumbling blocks we attribute to God making the rules too difficult, or even arbitrary in our minds? Again, we are not delving into the theology behind these gestures, but rather, noting that they have significance in Scripture and relevance to our potential for spiritual growth even beyond the literal significance we see here. Perhaps we can summarize forgiveness from sins as being a first step in healing from the fallen ways we respond to the hurts in our lives.
What does all of this tell us about the way we ought to pray for, with and about disabling conditions? Many times, it is our prayers (or manner of prayer) which need to be healed BEFORE praying for healing can truly begin. And so, we offer here some suggestions and reflections to ask as we formulate our prayers, either for ourselves in our conditions or on behalf of others.
May these thoughts guide us on our journeys toward the healing we desire... and the healing we need.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak