In God There is No Normal
Process Theology says that children with Asperger's Syndrome
Enrich the life of God and the life of the World. In God there is no Normal.
In early 2006, 12–year–old Joshua Littman, who has Asperger's syndrome, interviewed his mother, Sarah, at StoryCorps. Their one–of-a–kind conversation covered everything from cockroaches to Sarah's feelings about Joshua as a son.
StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 30,000 interviews from more than 60,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on StoryCorps’ Listen Page. Learn more about StoryCorps here.
James Pate: A First Person Narrative
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The Wild Flowers
Imagine a vast field of wildflowers, each of a different color and each wild because it cannot be reduced to a single category in our mind.
Imagine further that God is the soil in which the flowers are rooted and that God provides nutrients for the flowering of each, relative to the needs of the flower at issue and the field as a whole.
You and I are flowers. We may be Sarah in the video on the left or we may be Joshua. Either way we are flowers.
Our distinctive personalities and intelligences form the colors we bring to the world. Each of us is a unique coalescence of one or several forms of intelligence: visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, introspective, empathic, and otherwise. We may be good at one form of intelligence but not so good at another. Each of us is of a different color. The field is home to all the flowers.
The nutrients we receive from God are the impulses that we receive in our lives and discover in our imaginations, moment by moment, that help us become the best people we can be. Always these impulses are adjusted to our own immediate situation. They are the beckoning of God's spirit in our lives.
The Receptive Side of God
Imagine still further that the divine soil is affected by all that happens to each and every flower in the field: their living and their dying, their blossoming and their mortality. As the flowers suffer the soil suffers and as the flowers enjoy the soil enjoys. God is not simply active in the world, God is also receptive of the world. The world helps complete God's own desire for well-being. The soil becomes complete through the flowers.
In the animated audio on the left, Joshua and Sarah are among the wildflowers. They are each wild in that they are unique and incomparable. And as they talk we can hear them responding to God's desires, God's aims, each in their own way. They are dancing in a field of wildness.
The living soil underneath them -- God -- enriched not only by their realization of their potentials but by the beauty of their interaction. This beauty is what God desires. It is not the beauty of sameness, it is the beauty of a harmony in which there is diversity. It is a beauty in which each person is seen as charming and interesting.
In the Jewish tradition we speak of this beauty as Shalom, the fullness of live relative to the situation at hand. In the Muslim tradition we speak of this as Paradise, a place that is known on this very planet when the multiplicity of people is gathered into the unity of Oneness. In the Christian tradition we speak of it as what life looks like if the Kingdom of God is realized on earth as it is in heaven.
Becoming in God
At least this is how we process theologians understand things. Some of us are Jewish, some Muslim, some Christian, some Buddhist, some Hindu, and some are spiritually interested but not religiously affiliated. Influenced by a philosopher named Alfred North Whitehead, we believe in an organic and evolving universe that is gathered within, but not reducible to, the unity of divine love.
For us God is a womb-like compassion -- a Deep Listening -- in whom the universe lives and moves and has its being. We imagine God as a soil from which things grow or, alternatively, a sky-like mind within whose life all things float like clouds.
Whatever metaphors we use, God is the Consciousness of the universe and all the beings in the universe -- people and cockroaches and snakes, for example -- have experiences which are what God hears. This Consciousness is not located in a particular region of space but is instead everywhere at once, all the time, and yet changing. It is always faithful to us. It never gives up on us.
This means that God hears the voice of Joshua and also the voice of his mother, Sarah. In the listening God is enriched and then responds by offering fresh possibilities for wholeness, relative to the situation at hand. Sometimes we can listen with God. For my part I can hear Joshua responding to his possibilities and Sarah's to hers. In their responding they are adding to God's life and helping God become more fully incarnate in the world.
In God There is No Normal
Here is the good news. In God there is no normal. Each person is unique and incomparable to every other person. It is nice to have categories in our minds. We do assign people to roles and we assign ourselves to roles, too. This is natural.
But at some stage the categories in our minds collapse and we realize that each person -- each plant, each animal, each atom, each star -- is unique, incomparable to others, and not contained within our categories. A cockroach does not call itself a "cockroach" and a snake does not call itself a "snake."
If we forget this we fall into what Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. We forget that the concrete reality of our lives and other people's lives is always more than the abstractions we impose upon them or they impose upon themselves.
One thing that really irritates God is when people assume that there is only one "right way" to be. For example, as James Pate suggests in his blog on the left, it irritates God when Christians equate "being a good Christian" with "being a social extrovert," as if extroverts are the right way to be.
Yes, the world needs a few social extroverts here and there, but it needs so many other kinds of people, too. And so many other kinds of creatures. God is faithful, seeking the well-being of each and all, forever. There is no everlasting hell, there is only everlasting hope; and if our journeys continue after death, God will be beckoning us then, too, to become the best Joshua's and Sarah's that we can be.
Does God know the future in advance? Not really. God knows what is possible and perhaps probable, but not what is actual until it is actual. This means that the future is Open even for the One in whom we live and move and have our being. God does not have a plan for people that precedes their birth. God forms a plan moment by moment, relative to decisions people make and circumstances they face. As things change the plan changes, but always it is loving.
This doesn't mean that life is always easy. It is almost never easy. Not for us, not for those who love us, and not for those whom we love. Life is good but hard..
Passions and Pain
If we have Asperger's sometimes our obsessions can be harmful for others and for ourselves. Our need is to curb our obsessions and lighten up, as best we can. It is to learn from others in ways that enrich our capacities for social interaction
But sometimes our obsessions are simply our passions and they are grist for a creativity that adds deep beauty to the world. James Pate puts it well:
Most of our inventors may have had Asperger characteristics, at least on some level. Invention requires spending a lot of time in solitude, and some people are more equipped to do that than others.
God is a God who is enriched by beauty and who suffers pain. God seeks harmony but not sameness.
If we are aspies God does not ask us to become other than who we are. God asks us to become the best aspies we can be, thus adding beauty to a field of flowers in which there are no fences.
And it is always important to remember that Asperger's itself is but a diagnostic category which eludes the concreteness of our lives, moment by moment. A flower does not call itself a "flower." In the spaciousness of God's love the categories fall away.