How My Faith and Autism Activism Go Hand in Hand
As a person on the autism spectrum, one of my biggest motivations for being a disability rights activist is my faith. I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian. As an Orthodox Christian who is autistic, my faith’s teachings and morality inform my advocacy for the inclusion and dignity of autistic people in American society. As Lent approaches for both Catholics and Orthodox alike, I wanted to write a post to explain why.
As an autistic Orthodox Christian, I see God as my redeemer, with his Son Jesus as the Great healer. And the holy spirit as my guide and comforter. To quote the Way of the Pilgrim, a Russian spiritual work, “I am by God’s grace a Christian. By my actions, I am a great sinner.” Besides being an Orthodox Christian, and a sinful person, I wanted to write a post about the intersection of my faith and being on the spectrum. Being both Christian and autistic is both a riddle and a wonder.
The way my mind is wired, it values familiarity, rationality, logical thinking and routine consistency. Why did I choose Orthodoxy? Christianity only makes sense to me when it it presented in its orthodox, theological narrative. History, Scripture, tradition and worship must all be interconnected into a neat, logical, systematic theological portrait to make sense to me. Only Orthodoxy has succeeded in doing this for me.
While being in a logical system, it also has to preserve and make room for the Divine and the supernatural. Prayers, miracles and faith are very real things in my opinion. I feel history has shown this as well. Speaking just for myself, only Eastern Orthodoxy has been able to do this. The tradition, history, the church fathers, the canons, and the Eucharist in the Divine Liturgy all fit together in this neat theological system that also has mystery, wonder and miracles to it.
My first time going to a Divine Liturgy was sensory overload. My eyes wondered at the icons. My nose sensed the incense. My ears heard the Psalms, and Scriptural chants that are loaded into the Divine Liturgy. When I was christened and approached to receive the Eucharist for the first time, my mind wondered and marveled at real presence, and how I felt Jesus was going to heal me of my sins. All of these things, the wonder, the mysteries and the faith are why I am in Orthodoxy, besides the logical sense it all makes to me. I do not pretend to even be able to comprehend all about God or His power. I am only able to speak for myself, not anyone else’s experiences. To me, it’s beyond description.
Because the entire system of Orthodoxy is logical to me, I feel it is true for me. God sees me in my weakness and sin, yet despite this, He created me. He knows who I am, and loves me. Even with my autism, I am still a member of the Church. I am accepted and welcomed by my parish and priest. I am loved by the three persons of the Holy Trinity who protect and guide me. All of the saints stand in witness by my side interceding for me in my darkest moments. All of this happens, even if I do not see it. Orthodoxy makes sense, yet still has the mystery, the wonder and the miracles.
Orthodoxy sees humans as individual icons created in the image of God who have intrinsic worth and value, regardless of ability or personal characteristics. Every human person has value, and is to be loved and fully included in the life of the church and wider society. This was critical for me as a person with autism. It was one of the biggest reasons I decided to become Orthodox. I feel Orthodoxy is naturally compatible with my work and advocacy for autism rights. One thing I love about being Orthodox is how Orthodoxy allows disabled people full access to the sacraments in worship. Many Orthodox churches in America are working to make their liturgies, and churches more accessible to disabled people.
I am a person in Orthodoxy. My life has value and meaning. I have dignity, and there are people who support and accept me even though I am autistic. Orthodoxy has helped me see the struggles of vulnerable, and oppressed peoples everywhere. It has given me meaning to life, and a sense of universal truth.
I can’t describe what an incredible feeling it is to be home, in this church, where I belong and am loved, with my brothers and sisters in Eucharistic and monastic communities all around the world. I am Orthodox because of the incredible value and worth my God and faith gives to even the most vulnerable or looked down upon persons in our world. I can’t speak for anyone else’s spiritual journey or decision to abstain from spirituality, I only wanted to write this post to explain why I keep going and fighting for autistic rights amidst the budget cuts and ableism that so pervade society today. I hope I explained my own perspective to help you all understand why my faith and autism activism go hand in hand.