Today, I read a story told by a priest about ostrich eggs. Particularly, that the ostrich egg-shaped balls above the lamps are to remind us that, just as ostriches guard their eggs and never leave them out of sight for a moment, we must guard our prayer.
Leaving aside the prayer issue for a moment, a simple google will reveal that this is not actually true.
What ostriches do, is scrape a bit of ground, and then the females lay their eggs in the same spot – sometimes such a nest can contain 40 or so eggs as a result. A communal effort. However, to hatch the eggs must be covered. They generally cannot cover up more than 20, so most of them will not hatch. The dominant female shoves around the eggs to make sure hers, at least, will be incubated and hatch. Her competitors eggs are shoved to the side.
In a way, that is how a lot of us feel in Church. All of us gathering in one place, but the conditions do not allow all to prosper – and the weak, the eggs of the inferiors are shoved aside to make sure the dominant ones can make use of the available resources.
A far too high number of us no longer manage to attend services. Those of us that do, often find that the energy required to simply survive, means we cannot appreciate Liturgy as we would like – and perhaps ought – to. We do not want to be shoved aside; we want to have a place in the Church.
Aside from that, our brain difference means that a lot of the time, the trends and fashions of spirituality these days do not fit very well.
We tend to be fairly placid emotionally. Professionals say that it is still not known whether autists experience less emotion, or simply display less emotion, or experience emotion and do not know what to do with it.
Possibly all three. Despite my autism, I have no idea either; how am I supposed to know what other people feel, which is requirement to compare my level of emotion to others?
But the truth is that we do not always ‘get’ emotion. Not our own, not other peoples’. Regulation of emotion can be a problem – often IS a problem, and one where average or high intelligence does not protect us. As calm as we may normally be, occasionally there may be outbursts. Or we get stuck in the emotion for an unreasonable amount of time – possibly this also relates to the earlier mentioned open files.
The temptation in Church is to call this passion, or refusal to forgive, or indulging in one’s passion.
Again, as with ego and logismoi, this is an unexplored area. It is possible that it may be both. Yes, we have trouble regulation our emotions because of a brain difference. There may be ways we can learn to better handle them. Yes, we may also, or at other times, be indulging in passions – I would certainly not want to state that autism means we do not have passions.
What I do want to argue is that care must be taken not to confuse the two. Problems with emotion regulation because of autism is not the same as indulging in passions. After all, autists’ lack of facial expression and gesticulation, or simply not feeling much at all, certainly is not ever interpreted as apatheia!
Logic would dictate that if problems with emotion regulation can sometimes team up with passions, that we do not always experience emotions very deeply may aid us in achieving apatheia – but once again, it is beyond me to speculate too much about it. For this blog, all I want to do is suggest that we very carefully examine what the origin of our problem is, and not assume that it is solely a spiritual problem before we have examined if it may also be caused by autism. It can certainly be both – but even if it is, we must be aware of that brain difference that can get in the way.
A secondary problem is that once emotion regulation is a problem, we may no longer be in any shape or position to examine ourselves, certainly not at that moment. That is why not only do WE need to be aware of what is going on with us – and that is difficult enough as it is – it is also why it is necessary that within the Church, awareness of the peculiarities of autism in all its manifestations grows. So that when something like this becomes a problem, a sensible priest will say ‘wait a second – let’s not be hasty here. Have we missed any open files that we can close right now? If not – let’s wait this out and later examine what was going on. Let’s not make assumptions just yet.’
For the simple reason that assuming a spiritual problem lays an unfair responsibility on that person who may not be having a spiritual problem at all, but something caused by a brain difference. Something caused by autism cannot be solved by repenting, confessing, and working harder. Someone who is missing a leg likewise cannot make a new leg appear by repenting for not being able to walk, confessing he has failed to walk in the past, and working harder at growing a new leg. No sane person would demand that he do that; it should not be demanded of us, either, simply because a limb difference is visible and a brain difference is not.
Also, the resulting frustration and exhaustion often doesn’t bring us one inch closer to God, Who, after all, is where we all wish to be.