Receiving the Other

“Upholding the heart of autism”, is the meaning behind Peace of Heart Community’s logo. Turning listening ears inside out was of what Jesus did. Such counter cultural commands: “the first shall be last and the last shall be first, revealing his truths to the simple yet confounding the wise, to gain your life you first must lose it…” are what I call the Gospel. When he called for his followers to receive little children in the same manner we receive him he again another essential gospel tenant: “You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference (Luke 9:48, The Message)”. It is our common humanity, our spirits, that count. It is not the color of our skin, sexuality, religious affiliation, or our capabilities that define us: it is our souls. In Luke 11:13 it says we were all “conceived in love”. God’s love for each of us is of the same measure.

How do we receive the most vulnerable among us? How do we receive the rude check-out clerk who we know nothing about? How do we receive our spouse with no expectation of return? How do we embrace those who misjudge us? What do we say to the person just diagnosed with cancer or the person who just lost a loved one? How do we speak to the person with autism who can not communicate the way you do? I would suppose Jesus would simply say to welcome them. To walk alongside them in their pain. To smile at them in love and engage in what is important to them.

The key to this embracing calls us to become comfortable in our insecurities. When we confront those with difference, the unknown can unsettle us. In doing so, we feel a certain unpredictability that quickly leads to fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety breed vulnerability; a loss of control stemming from a sense that we will not know the outcome. It is in this feeling of vulnerability that we too realize we are no different. We too are in need of the some love and acceptance and desire to belong. Vulnerability is simply a reminder that we are invited to “throw into deep” as Jesus called Peter to do with his nets before he declared his discipleship. This command made no sense. Peter had already casted his nets with no yield. But, “because you say so Master” was his response. May it be our response too when faced with the deep waters all around us.

Persons with autism who type to communicate say their bodies do not listen to their minds. They are held hostage by behavior that does not speak their intention or their intelligence. How do we receive these persons? We uphold their hearts with our presence, engaging in conversation with them though they do not “speak” back. We speak to them in an age appropriate manner in voice tone and content. For a young lady, we may comment on her outfit or hair style or ask if she likes her nails polished. A young man you may ask who he wants to win the super bowl or what music he enjoys listening to. Their response must be felt with the heart. Words may not result but a heart connection is made. Assume they are “in there”, that they are fully alive and have the same desires and dreams that you or I do. When you do so you are presuming their competence. Like little children, you are affirming their importance.

It takes grace to receive those who are most vulnerable, not just because of their vulnerability but ours too. Next time you are in an uncomfortable situation use your vulnerability as a reminder to receive the other.  This is how you can help us uphold the heart of autism. Cast into deep and feel the gospel come alive.

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