This week, we take on our toughest questions.
Q: Is this Mission only for people with verbal skills?
A: No. Just as anywhere else, speaking skills are helpful for our Missionaries to have, but they are not necessary. Many people with autism are considered nonverbal or not yet verbal. Can they still pray, contemplate and relate? Absolutely. Can they combat spiritual starvation? Absolutely. Are they human, and do they have needs? Absolutely. So far, “nonverbal” does not disqualify anyone! If a person who has difficulty speaking wishes to be part of our Mission, we welcome them and everything they bring of their talents.
Q: I have autism, and I feel completely spiritually fulfilled. Why do you presume people with autism are spiritually starving?
A: We do not make that presumption. We know that many people with autism do experience disconnection, but we also know that large numbers of people without autism also feel disconnected spiritually, and many people are fortunate enough to be well connected on a regular basis. If you have good spiritual grounding, you are all the more able to help those who do not. We would love to have you on our team.
Q: My social impairments are very real and very painful. Your approach seems to be “just go greet people,” as if it is mind over matter. That feels insulting and invalidating. How do you answer that?
A: Autism and social anxiety are NOT mind over matter. If you look closely, you’ll see that our approach to greeting people is to come from a place of need. Social impairments certainly do create need, so we inherently acknowledge this difficulty and seek to use it rather than deny or eliminate it.
Here is an example: It is possible to approach someone with eyes averted and say, “I am not able to look you in the eye right now because I’m too anxious. Will you still speak with me?”
Another example: What if you are not ready to approach someone greeting? Our purpose is not to “therapize” you, but rather, for you to find a way to acknowledge the other person. Think of this as a “Yes, and” approach. Social anxiety? Yes, and there are numerous and creative ways to make a meaningful gesture of greeting.
Q: I’m not interested in God, religion or anything spiritual. Why do you only talk about spiritual things?
A: Spirituality is at the core of our Mission statement. We exist to discuss spiritual matters, and we do so under the banner of the One, True God. This may not fit well with some people’s beliefs, and we accept that. If it does, then here we are.
Q: A lot of what you suggest hinges on the other person being welcoming and warm. In my experience, people are not interested in talking to me. Many of them are rude and hurtful. How is that supposed to feed me, spiritually?
A: Rejection does not feed anyone. But remember: Your Mission is to feed others spiritually. Even if your greeting is rejected or ignored, who is to say that it did not give spiritual nourishment? Just as God is unseen to us, so too is the effect of our spiritual effort.
It takes a great amount of practice to field rejection and indifference. We are here to provide support and encouragement especially to those whose greetings fall by the wayside or are met with hostility. Many people are not used to sincerity, and it takes them time to lower their defenses. People are grouchy when they have not physically eaten well, and people are grouchy when they have not been well spiritually fed. Be patient, and trust that you are doing good service even if others do not immediately take the spiritual food you offer them.
Q: I am perfectly happy being an introvert. Why should I conform to how you think I should socialize?
A: Introverts are just as helpful to our cause as extroverts, in the fullest expression of their personality styles. We go back to our core steps, pray-contemplate-relate, and see no exclusion of introverts or extroverts in that formula. Introverts welcome, extroverts welcome. As for conformity, we do ask that everyone follow the same steps, but we encourage people to do so in as many diverse ways as we have Missionaries helping.
Q: This material seems too far over our heads. Why not use simpler methods?
A: The biggest chunk of audience is comprised of adolescents and young adults. If any portion of our material is too challenging, we are very willing to work with individuals in different formats to make it more accessible. However, we want to afford adolescents and young adults the dignity of aspiring to their maturity level. We are not geared for younger children. There is a wealth of materials written for lower levels, but we wish to fill the niche for teens and beyond.
Q: I don’t get it; I thought you were here to help me with my autism.
A: If you refer back to our Mission statement, we are here to help combat spiritual starvation. So, if you have autism and are spiritually hungry, we are here to help; or, if you have autism and are here to join the cause, we are glad to have you on our team. (We think both ways help with autism).
Do you have questions we have not covered?
We are very open to hearing them and responding. Please send them to us:
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