New blog schedule and my writing process.

I have decided to reduce the frequency of this blog to one post a month. The summer has had a lot of disruption to my normal routine, I have a lot of appointments over the next few weeks, and the idea of fitting in writing posts was becoming stressful. I want to continue the blog though, because I am still enjoying it and I have a folder full of ideas for things to write about.

I like seeing other people’s writing processes, so I thought perhaps others may be interested in mine. The way I write is very much affected by my autism and learning difficulties, although I have learned some very good strategies from educational support at college and university. I note down ideas for posts whenever I have them; sometimes just a vague topic, sometimes it’s quite detailed. Usually I will think about it for quite a while, days or weeks, until it is better formed in my mind. I add notes to the file during that time; I find “Notes” useful because it synchs between devices so is always available. When I begin actively writing a post I start with an outline and try to decide on a structure. First I have lists of bare content. Then I gradually write out the information into sentences and paragraphs, adding in the small words that make it flow and look like proper English. Then I try to add some personal interpretation or reflection. I frequently read it over to make sure it’s on topic and saying what I want it to say, relating it back to the title/theme I decided on. This is laborious because I can’t hold the topic in mind while working, so I have to be constantly checking back and analysing each part, as well as trying to make the piece a coherent whole. I like to finish writing a day or two before putting it on the blog so I can proof read it after a break. I try to check for the tone of the language because that doesn’t come naturally to me, and without care it would read like a dusty text book (perhaps it does!) in broken sentences.

Each post takes several days, and sometimes a few weeks, of work. When I am writing, it is the main task for the day. I find it very tiring and it’s hard to switch off from thinking about it the rest of the time. For that reason, I need to reduce how often I post to the blog. I was not giving myself enough time and energy for daily life and for any extra events that come up. But I do enjoy it, and I am still hoping that writing the information I wanted to see but couldn’t find a few years ago will be helpful to someone.

Truth. Love. Autism.

I often have very black-and-white, either/or thinking because of my autism. But the culture I live in taught me that loving people means uncritically accepting everyone and everything about them. It taught me that being a good person means not imposing an idea of truth on others, and that truth is not objective. I learned to adopt a relativistic outlook because that is the “good” way of thinking, and how to be “nice”.

In some ways, it was good. I learned how to think in less concrete terms and be more flexible, and nothing was a problem because there was no objective standard. But I found it very difficult in practice; it was confusing and stressful because there was no certainty in anything. And the flip side of nothing being a problem was that nothing was “right” or “best” either, also because there was no objective standard to measure by. That outlook combined with diminishing faith was very damaging to me. I took it to the logical conclusion: Since there is no absolute truth, there is no God, at least no powerful effective God. Without truth, there is no right or wrong, no sin, and no need for a saviour. God is reduced to no more than a possible cause to begin the universe, and a nice idea. Without truth and without God, there is no ultimate or lasting purpose and meaning to life and existence. It was a joyless time.

When I began re-examining whether or not God is real after years of perceived irrelevance, it coincided with questioning whether or not there is absolute truth. I realised quickly you can’t logically have one without the other; God without truth is irrelevant, truth without God has no foundation. I learned that truth is objective, and is discovered not invented; if it is invented it can’t be objective truth. I also came to realise there must be both God and truth for the world to make any sense, and for life to have meaning*. The obvious question after discovering that there is truth was: What is the truth?

The answer came in Jesus. It took a long time to decide Christianity is true, but when I got there, it answered everything. Jesus boldly claimed not just to know the truth, but to be the truth. He claimed not just to know a way, but to be the way. Jesus is truth incarnate. To know Him more, is to know truth more. To believe and accept the truth more, is to believe and accept Jesus more. Through the grace of God we can know Him in a real and personal relationship.  But as with human relationships, knowing about the person matters. I can have a personal relationship with the shopkeeper but I don’t know them or have any intimacy with them. That requires getting to know them and learning about them.

So how does one get to know God better? Through His self-revelation in Jesus Christ. How does one learn about Jesus? The bible.

Jesus is truth, so finding the best way to know Him is essential for knowing the truth. The bible is key for getting to know and learning about Him. But how can we be sure to understand it properly? Six people can read the same passage and come up with at least six interpretations of what it means about the person of Jesus and His will for us. We need certainty of accurately understanding the bible as well as simply access to it, because if Jesus is truth, and the bible is the best way to learn about Him, a valid interpretation can’t be subjective or “my version”.

Fortunately, Jesus didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves with only a book. He established a church, founded on the apostles, that He gave the authority to teach the good news. This authority to interpret and teach was passed to the successors of the apostles, down through the generations to this day. Its beginnings can be seen in the bible, and an understanding of that responsibility, authority, and purpose is clear from the very beginning of the church, even before the books of the new testament were completed. The passing on of this understanding is known as tradition, and the interpretation of bible and tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit, is known as the teaching authority of the church. To know Jesus as fully as possible requires the bible, tradition, and the teaching authority of the church; all three are established, guided, and protected by God for His people.

Through knowing and following Jesus we can discover objective truth. The increasing certainty I found from this way of thinking was reassuring and inspiring. It made me want to start learning as much as I can about God, the natural world, people, everything really, because it all means something. But as I began to see things in more concrete terms again, I started to worry that disagreeing with other people’s opinions was being ungenerous, overly critical, and basically not nice. The prevailing culture says to accept everything, not to judge, and everyone can be and believe exactly what they want. Although I no longer thought the relativistic attitude is accurate or helpful, I didn’t know how to fit this renewed way of thinking with being kind, and I sometimes worry that trying to discover and follow truth might make me “hard”.

Once again, the answer is in Jesus Himself. When I worry about becoming hard-hearted by holding to truth, I look at Jesus who is truth: God as a helpless baby; God going to meet the weak, outcast, unwanted, sinful; God crucified. When we really know and follow Jesus, we become like Him and so grow in love. By His grace we will grow in both truth and love, and learn to manage the tension between them. When it seems impossible, look at a crucifix. There Jesus unites absolute truth and justice, with total love and mercy. Embracing and balancing truth and love, justice and mercy, are not abstract unattainable principles. They are made tangible and held together in the person of Jesus. No matter how challenging it is to balance truth and love, no matter how uncomfortable it is to follow truth, the person of Jesus makes it worth any sacrifice. And He showed us how by first sacrificing Himself.

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Image: “Cross Against The Light” by Jacky Weyenbergh, PublicDomainPictures.net

Jesus taught exacting standards for behaviour and even thought. But this didn’t make Him hard or unloving. He set the highest possible standards, asking for perfection, but He offered the deepest love and forgiveness recognising our weakness. Jesus reached out to sinners in love, but He didn’t leave them as they were, He always invited people to live in truth. Today we think pleasing oneself is freedom, and allowing it is kind. But taken to its conclusion, saying that it doesn’t matter what people do is saying people don’t matter, they have no purpose or responsibility or role to play. Jesus held the extremes and the perfect example of both justice and mercy within himself, He personified both truth and love. He could do that because He is life, He is truth, because He is God. We are called to follow Jesus in every aspect of life. That means including the seemingly impossible balance between recognising and holding to the absolute truth, and yet being loving and merciful at the same time. Following Jesus may seem more difficult than adopting a relativistic, “anything goes” outlook. It has very demanding challenges, but it makes one strive for the best, and do everything possible to help others along too. Relativism can only lead to confusion and doubt and emptiness because it is based on the idea that nothing is real. So, the choice is between God and reality, and a superficially comfortable illusion.

My specific challenge for embracing both truth and love is to recognise my tendency towards black-and-white thinking and notice when it is not helpful, either as not loving, or over simplified so not true. Also, I struggle to remember what is true and to hold that alongside acting in love; that is hard because of my difficulty holding multiple things in mind. I get sucked into situations and lose all awareness of my intentions. But I can ask God to help me, and be confident that He will because this is what He asks of us. These are my particular challenges because of autism, but I expect everybody has some pattern of thinking that gets in the way of either being loving and merciful, or recognising and holding to the truth of God. In a way, it’s helpful to know this difficulty isn’t specific to autism. It is a difficulty arising from being human. It is not meant to be easy after all, Jesus said that to be disciples we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow Him. But we can be confident in God’s help to meet the challenges all of us face to live in His way, holding fast to His truth and loving unconditionally.

 

*This new book contains good summaries of the arguments for why God is necessary for truth and for human purpose: Unbelievable? by Justin Brierley

Prayer: Pray without ceasing (especially when you don’t want to).

This is part three of a series on prayer. Part One Part Two


This is a “quick and dirty” post because I am exhausted; I’m just back from a weekend away, the other people in my house are packing to go on holiday, all my routines have gone to pot, and I am feeling overwhelmed and generally rough. None of that is to complain though, I thought this is the perfect opportunity to write about how to pray without ceasing even, and especially, at times like this when I cannot focus, feel ill, and just want to hide away.

So, what does it mean to pray without ceasing?

St Paul instructs the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”, or to “pray constantly”. It can’t mean formal prayers or in depth verbal prayer, because that would be impossible. I think it means learning to develop and maintain an openness to God at all times (see previous post). Trying to keep heart and mind turned towards God whatever you’re doing and however you’re feeling. Maybe it’s more keeping heart and mind open a crack to allow God in, rather than making constant effort towards Him. Its aiming for an attitude that says to God “I want to be with you and let you be within me, even now when I feel ___ (happy/sad, energetic/exhausted, confident/overwhelmed, excited/depressed, strong/ill etc.).”

How do you do it?

The first thing is to begin trying and practicing when things are relatively easy and you feel fairly good. I need it at the moment, I can’t manage any other sort of prayer while I feel like this. But I can only do it because I’ve already put in the effort to learn. There is no magic formula because it is just maintaining an openness to, and desire for God. It is an attitude and relationship rather than a process or technique. I realise that’s not very helpful, so here are links to some resources that may help. They are all ways into learning and developing the internal attitude, they aren’t the thing itself, so try different methods and see what works:

  1. This short video gives a simple and concrete method to choose to spend time with God. It’s a good starting point if you have no idea how to begin. 
  2. “The practice of the presence of God” is a small book containing the collected works of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite monk. He lived his whole life in the presence of God, even when doing mundane work and when he was ill and weak. I find this book encouraging because he wasn’t a great saint or mystic, he was limited both physically and mentally like me, but he loved God in an all-consuming and active way, all of the time. This book is one of my absolute favourite books on prayer. This edition is unabridged.
  3. There is an ancient Orthodox prayer called the Jesus Prayer that is used both during dedicated times of prayer, and while going about daily activities to keep an awareness of God. The whole prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s simplicity is both it’s challenge and it’s power and effectiveness. There are a lot of books on the subject, here’s two I have seen that I think are useful. The Jesus Prayer by Bishop Kallistos Ware is an inexpensive and informative booklet. Using the Jesus Prayer by John Twisleton  is a more descriptive book of how it can be used and applied to different circumstances.

What happens when we pray without ceasing?

The longer quote from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It doesn’t magically make everything easy and wonderful, but as I become more aware of God’s constant presence, it is easier to thank Him whatever is happening. Thanking and praising God is closely linked to trusting Him. I have to trust that God is with me even when I can’t feel it. When I thank Him for being with me even at times I feel alone, it is an act of trust as well as praise. Trust and love and praise don’t have to be nice spontaneous feelings. They are an act of will, a deliberate choice. They are just as real (if not more so) when we choose them, as when they pop up spontaneously. Whatever I am finding difficult or overwhelming, I can thank God and praise Him for the quality in Him that makes Him bigger than my circumstances and shows He is the answer. For example, if I feel confused, He knows everything; if I can’t cope with the world, He holds the world in His hand. Making the deliberate act of praise is choosing, almost forcing myself to trust God and believe what Jesus showed us of Himself. So, by practicing this sort of prayer I do gradually become more aware of God’s presence and goodness, learn to trust Him more, and desire to follow Him more closely.

Prayer: What is it?

This is part two of a series on prayer. See Part One


Prayer is often defined as a movement, or lifting up, of heart and mind to God. I like this definition because it indicates relationship and getting closer to God, but it doesn’t specify or limit how this can happen.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has one of the best, and most autism friendly descriptions of prayer I’ve seen. The section called “what is prayer” describes prayer in three ways: as a gift from God, as covenant, and as communion. I’m going to look at one paragraph from each in relation to autism. (You can see the whole section online here.)

Prayer as God’s gift

“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.” (CCC §2559)

I love the emphasis on humility as the foundation of prayer. Prayer is in no respect about my own ability or effectiveness in communication, understanding, or “goodness”. This truth levels prayer for all people regardless of age, ability/disability, intelligence, personality, or spiritual state. Every person needs to admit that “we do not know how to pray as we ought”. When we come to God in prayer we are all equally unable to pray as we ought to, and so we all equally accept prayer as a freely given gift from God. He gives us the desire to pray, He gives Himself to us in prayer, and teaches us how to give ourselves to Him.

Prayer as covenant

Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain. (CCC §2562)

This paragraph could have been written for me as an autistic person. “Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays.” It is the whole person who prays, it is not about words or specific methods. The methods are just the means for expressing what is happening in the heart. Because of this, it doesn’t matter at all how well or badly I use a specific method. I do not, as I used to think, need to be able to eloquently compose speeches to God in order to be praying effectively. Realising this allows me to accept and enjoy the gift of praying to God.

Although prayer is a gift from God, we must play our part. “If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.” I often find it too easy for prayer to fall into autopilot, ticking it off the to-do list. When that happens, my heart isn’t in it. But I think it is worth persevering through times when it becomes automatic and “dry”, because without sticking to a routine I would soon stop doing it all together. I think the main thing for me is trying to notice when I’m not engaged, and making that part of the prayer. Admitting I’m not doing very well and asking God for help. That way my failing becomes part of prayer, and recognising it lets me say I do not know how to pray as I ought.

Prayer as communion

In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is “the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit.” Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ. Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love. (CCC §2565)

Prayer isn’t a chore or an obligation, it is a joyful privilege and the foundation of “the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.” Through the effectiveness of baptism, we can have confidence in the objective reality of this intimate union with God. It’s a wonderful thing to remember at times when I don’t feel close to God, or when I think I’m not managing to pray well enough, or when life is confusing and stressful and I feel isolated even from God. But that’s not all; the love of God doesn’t end with one to one personal relationship. It “extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love.” I often find it hard to fit in and make friends and get to know new people. Busy noisy churches can be uncomfortable places for me. Communal prayer can be challenging because it often relies on verbal methods I find difficult. But sharing prayer with others can emphasise the relationship of all being members of the Body of Christ, and be a shared activity that helps build social relationships too. So, I find it worth persevering and finding groups and methods for communal prayer that are more accessible. However hard it feels to join in, the fact of being a member of the Body of Christ means we are given unity with other people that is created and sustained by the love of Christ. It may not make talking to a stranger any easier, but it gives me more courage to try. It makes me feel more like I belong since, regardless of my social skills, unity with other Christians is an objective reality.

Prayer: My experience so far

This is part one of a series on prayer. See Part Two Part Three


I grew up thinking spontaneous verbal prayer was the only one way to pray because of the Christian tradition my family comes from. I struggle with spontaneous verbal prayer because of my communication difficulties so I’ve always found prayer challenging.

When I was in my 20s I went on a retreat prior to baptism. It was run by two semi-retired Anglican ministers in a beautiful village in North Wales. They introduced me to different ways to pray including methods that involve the senses and allow silence. I immediately liked them, but didn’t learn them well enough to be able to use by myself. Later I began to see different ways to pray at the Baptist church I joined in Wales. Evening services often had prayer activities that utilised various creative methods. I enjoyed these, but again I didn’t learn them well enough to use on my own. I find it hard to generalise new information to different situations. So, doing something in the context of a service is completely different from using the same method at home on my own. I didn’t know how to choose a method, when they were appropriate to use, or how to fit them into my day. I found it very confusing so stuck with what was familiar.

Thankfully this has all changed. The first significant thing was being diagnosed with austism spectrum disorder. I learned that there was a reason why communication so often goes horribly wrong. And I realised that other people don’t find talking and communication so hard. The second significant thing is that when I returned to belief in God, I didn’t just jump back in where I was before. Once I was sure Christianity is true, I started over from the beginning learning about different traditions. This helped me see the wide variety of ways people pray and worship, and that no one way is necessarily better than the others. I also realised that prayer is the foundation of relationship with God; it is communication but it doesn’t require words. I had a chance meeting with someone on a train who told me about Christian meditative prayer. He explained enough for it to make more sense, and to be clearer how to use it than I’d previously been able to understand. I decided to just do it and stop worrying about doing it “right”. From that day, I’ve been allowing more and more silence in prayer. I no longer think I need to use words all the time because I realise prayer is communication that doesn’t rely on my ability. The form or method of prayer is more for our benefit than God’s, because He understands perfectly and knows all our intentions. This realisation gave me permission to start evaluating how and why I do things and looking for ways that work better for me.

I often find using words is like praying in a foreign language. It creates a barrier between me and God because translating thoughts into words and trying to tell if I’m expressing myself clearly forces me to focus on myself instead of Him. I’ve begun using pre-written prayers that express what I feel or mean, this helps because someone else has done the hard work. I sometimes use physical or gestural methods, I like ways that engage the senses such as sight and touch. Most of all I like silence. This new approach has led to a deepening relationship with God that is unimpaired by autism.

It isn’t as easy as that of course. I often slip back into habitual old verbal methods that don’t work for me, and I get tied up in an anxious knot trying to express something important and knowing I’m not managing to say what matters. When that happens it’s easy to feel cut off from God. In reality I’ve got caught up in myself and have stopped looking to Him. I’m trying to rely on myself instead of trusting Him and remembering that He is a loving Father who delights in His children. Learning to trust God is probably the biggest lesson I’m learning through changing the way I pray; slowly learning to rely on Him instead of myself even in communication.

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I am going to spend some time looking at prayer in a series of posts. I want to explore more of what it is and why it’s essential, ways to do it, why it can be so hard, what listening in prayer means, and look at ways my autism impacts the way I pray. Please leave a comment if there is an aspect of prayer you’d be interested in reading about.

Unbelievable? The Conference 2017

 

The event

I went to the unbelievable conference on Saturday 13th May at The Brewery in London. It was a fantastic day of inspiring and thought provoking talks from Christian apologists and evangelists. It was hosted by Justin Brierly of the Unbelievable? podcast, and I heard talks by Andy Bannister, John Lennox, and Jeremiah J. Johnston. All the speakers were excellent. Andy Bannister spoke honestly but sensitively about suffering and why God allows it to happen. John Lennox spoke about why Christian faith makes sense of science rather than competes with it. He was refreshingly sensible but also entertaining. Jeremiah Johnston spoke about times when God is silent. I hadn’t heard him before and found his style very engaging and honest. I won’t go into detail of the talks because recordings will be available of them from Premier and I recommend listening to them.

Accessibility

I find going to big events, or any new event to be honest, rather challenging. It’s a normal part of being autistic. The conference was big, crowded, noisy, and hundreds of miles away from home. But it was very well set up and the organisers did a lot to make it accessible. I will describe my experience of the day, and hopefully it will help anyone who might consider going next year:

Before going I (well, actually my mum) arranged for someone to be available to show me around and explain what I needed to do on the day. I arrived at the venue and there was a man in a bowler hat directing people to the door. Inside was a crowded foyer with lots of people and tables. But I ignored all the people and just followed the instructions I had been given, and found the wonderfully kind and attentive lady who was going to help me out. I didn’t ask permission to name her here, so I’ll call her Volunteer Lady.

Having a helper felt a bit weird at first because I’ve never done that before, actually acknowledged how hard it is going to events and asked for help upfront. I normally think “I should be able to do this”, and either struggle through getting exhausted and not able to enjoy myself, or most often just don’t go. I wouldn’t have gone to something that big and that far away without support. It was helpful even before going because I didn’t have to try and figure out schedules or come up with contingency plans for if anything went wrong. It took the stress out of it.

Volunteer Lady was brilliant during the morning. The first part of the day was a blur. I just followed her around and did what I was told. She took me to the hall where all the stalls and refreshments were. She tried to show me around a bit, but it was packed and noisy and overwhelming. Eventually we went to the biggest lecture room for the introductory talks. It was a very big room on two levels, sitting in the back section was comfortable and there was enough space. Then we went to a smaller room for the first session with Andy Bannister. It was a very interesting talk and the speaker was easy to follow. He took email addresses to send out the slides so we didn’t have to take notes and could just listen (I had decided not to try taking notes anyway because I can’t write and listen simultaneously, but still appreciated this).

Then there was a break and I followed Volunteer Lady to the hall again. It seemed even more crowded, there were people everywhere talking loudly. It was quite unpleasant so having a helper was amazing, I just did what she said. Something funny happened while I queued for a cup of tea. Someone appeared with a clipboard and said something I didn’t catch, then Volunteer Lady disappeared with her, came back briefly and said something else I didn’t catch, then disappeared again. By the time I had my tea she was back and was sticking a book in my bag. I figured out later that my mum had pre-payed for a copy of the unbelievable book, and Volunteer Lady had got it signed. I had no idea what was going on, but fortunately she did!

After that we went to the next talk. It was painfully loud and I was getting really stressed so decided to leave. Again Volunteer Lady to the rescue, because walking out with her was far less awkward than walking out on my own (I always worry that it’s rude).

After a couple of minutes in the deserted hall I was beginning to feel better so decided to go to a different talk for the rest of the session. On the way through the foyer we met Justin Brierly, the host. Surprisingly he knew who I was from an article I wrote for the Premier blog. He was friendly and we had a good chat for a few minutes. Then Volunteer Lady and I continued to the biggest lecture hall to hear John Lennox.

After that it was lunchtime and I had figured out where to go and what was happening by then, so I went off by myself for an hour. I had a very pleasant time wandering round the stalls in the hall while it was quiet, it seems everyone had gone out or to an extra seminar. There were a lot of interesting things to look at, and some very interesting people. I had a good look round, spoke to a few people, and bought a couple of things too. I asked the man at the museum of the bible stall about the project, and it sounds really good. It’s not at all displays of dinosaurs and people together, but rather a serious look at what the bible is and what impact it has had throughout history and today. It sounds like it will be worth visiting once the UK site is open.

After lunch I was in the same lecture room for the rest of the day. That combined with knowing where everything was made the rest of the day easy. Volunteer Lady was still around though, and turned up for all the transitions. She made the day easy and pleasant, instead of effortful and stressful as it would have been without her.

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My haul from the conference (plus the sock leg I knit during the lectures).

The event was very well run; everything was on schedule, lots of staff in bright t-shirts directing people, free tea and coffee provided, jugs of water in every room. The volume of the talks was mostly ok; I went to three of the four lecture rooms and only one was too loud to stay. The video clips were too loud but they were all quite short so were tolerable. I don’t think the staff knew anything specific about communication aspects of autism, but they were kind and friendly and very helpful. The venue was a really cool building with lots of interesting architecture and sculptures. There were a lot of stairs but there were lifts, and there were a couple of wheelchair users attending so I think it was quite accessible. It’s in the same place again next year. If anyone is considering going next year, I highly recommend it.

Communication: with people and with God.

There is a fundamental difference between communication in relationships with people and with God. But I’ve noticed that I tend to approach God expecting the same difficulties as in human relationships.

Human relationships

It is common that the less able person is expected to make up the “communication gap”. For example, in a situation that frequently leads to miscommunication, people will ask what happened to cause the problem and why. But then say “can’t you just do X? Then I’ll know what’s going on and there won’t be a problem.” Generally I can’t just do X (maybe its explain something during a moment of overwhelm, or notice what someone else is doing if I’m absorbed in a task etc.) If I could there wouldn’t be a problem.

This isn’t usually done out of nastiness or ill will. People don’t know they are asking the impossible. They want to make things work and simply don’t know how else to proceed. The fact that they are interested and want to improve communication is fantastic. But, unfortunately, it can come across as “I can’t cope with your abnormality, please try to be normal and then we can get along fine.” This may be a false interpretation but it still makes me feel bad. Pre-diagnosis it made me feel solely responsible for the problem, and so led to unhealthy habits of trying too hard to manage or appear “normal”.

[If you are a neurotypical (“normal”) person, and you are ever in the situation of trying to understand someone with communication difficulties, keep asking questions and being interested, but please also explain how you experience the same things to help the person understand you better as well. Try working out together if there is something you can do to make up the communication gap, e.g. if they appear to ignore you try getting their attention a different way, or if they can’t talk just wait a little while, or if they seem rude check if that’s what they really meant. I’m sure none of that is easy to do, especially if you have an emotional reaction to the miscommunication, but it could go a long way to improve things.]

I know a few people who either through talent and intuition, or through hard work and asking lots of questions, do what they can to make up the communication gap. These people are a blessing. But in every human relationship (including between neurotypicals) even with the best efforts and intentions of everyone, communication will be imperfect and mistakes will happen.

Relationship with God

Between God and people there is an infinite communication gap, whether or not we have any specific difficulties. But He always makes up the gap.

God reaches out in love to every human being. He understands us perfectly, exactly as we are. He reveals Himself in ways we can understand. He gives everyone what they need to relate to Him through whatever means they can use.  He incorporates us into His constant Trinitarian communication; He lives within us and intercedes for us. He listens to us, understands us, speaks alongside us, and for us. But he doesn’t overwhelm or reduce us, in fact He makes us more complete, more fully who we are. Despite knowing this, I very often approach God expecting the same communication difficulties as in a human relationship. I expect difficulty and a degree of separation and so waste effort and anxiety on trying to find the right words. This focus on “getting it right” means I am more focused on myself than on God, and so creates an unnecessary barrier. It can be scary and difficult to believe God understands us perfectly, especially if one hasn’t much experience of being understood or taken seriously. It is challenging to just let Him love me, and to respond with love, trust, and obedience, asking Him everyday to help because I can’t do it on my own.

When I try to explain myself to a person I’m in control. It might be difficult and frustrating, but I am giving the information, and their feedback and behaviour indicate whether it is working. With God I’m not in control, and allowing that requires trust and humility. He knows me utterly, better than I know myself. I don’t need to “get it right” with God. I need to learn to trust instead. Trust that He knows, understands, accepts, and loves me more than I can imagine.

To me, used to difficult communication, the fact of God making up the communication gap feels like a big deal. But I wonder if it is to God? He is infinite, omniscient and perfect. We are not. Even the best human communicator must be extremely limited and clumsy before God. It makes me wonder if real communication with God relies on our verbal or language abilities at all. Certainly we can use them in prayer, but maybe they are just tools to facilitate something deeper or purer. I will explore this in a future series about prayer.

With God, miscommunication can only be one sided. I can fail to listen or refuse to listen, but He always perfectly understands me. By His grace, I can learn to listen more clearly. And one day, God willing, “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Blog objectives

I keep reading and hearing that autistic people are unlikely to believe in God and, far worse, that they can’t relate to God. This has made me at various times sad, angry, and even doubt myself. It’s worst when it is respected Christians saying this.

I have decided to write this blog as a way to offer an alternative perspective. I don’t have answers or solutions to all the problems, but I can demonstrate that autistic Christians not only believe in God, but have genuine relationship with Him. Fortunately for all of us, including people without autism, the relationship is a gift from God and not dependant on our own strength and ability.

I will use this blog to explore ideas about aspects of Christianity, autism, the intersection between the two, and to share my experiences as an autistic Christian.

I may do series of related posts, and I may write on random topics that have captured my interest. Some will be purely about Christianity, and some purely about autism. But since I’m the author, they will all demonstrate the possibility of being autistic and having faith in God.