This blog entry was originally posted by Fr Keith Hebden when he was our Associate Priest
In our third week in our four week course we heard the story of Ben Allison, a trainee vicar who is autistic and dyspraxic. You can read his story in full if you buy the Inclusive Church book “Disability”. Ben happens to be a friend of a couple who worship at St Mark’s – Ruth and Ellie – and we’d invited him to speak a year earlier. He’d been both entertaining and challenging that day as he provoked us to think with his suggestion that Jesus may have been autistic.
As a person with autism he speaks graphically of how he registers so many more of the sounds and sights of life than most other people, and how distracting that can be, in church.
I have heard the inaudible whine that the spotlight on the fifth pillar is making. I have heard the mutter of some crossed radio-frequency through the microphones. I have heard rustling papers, rustling robes, and rustling people. I can hear the rhythmic tapping of my fingers against the back of my hand. I know that the rest of you do not hear these things, but just because you cannot hear it does not mean it isn’t there.
But he also writes of his overwhelming sense of how God sees him and loves him as he is.
God looks on me with the eyes of a father, the same way as he looked at Jesus.
There are members of our church and of our Boys Brigade who are diagnosed as autistic so this week’s story led some of our groups to quite a self-reflective space. But also to sharing some uncomfortable stories of people with autism that leaves them with far less opportunity than Ben has, in life. We wondered where God might be, in all this?
As usual we put a passage from the Bible alongside the story/stories from our lives (1 Kings 19).
God said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWH, for YHWH is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks by YHWH’s power – but YHWH was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire – but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah couldn’t find God in the great big noises and the drama of nature. It was only when those sounds were out of the way that he could here the “gentle whisper” or what some translations call “the still small voice” of God.
We wondered how we might better help people to hear that still small voice in the midst of the bells, smells, and flickering lights of church.
We decided: we had better ask!