One of the first things that I discovered, as my family discovered the Autistic Spectrum and our various positionings within it, was the concept of neurodiversity. The idea that all of our brains are wired differently, giving us differing gifts and challenges. Whilst many people have a “neurotypical” set up, sharing common patterns of functioning, many others use their brains in delightfully quirky ways. The community identifying itself as “neurodiverse”, trying to embrace all these quirks and typicalities, has adopted for its patron saint, St Christina the Astonishing, who was born in Belgium in 1150 and died in 1224 at the ripe age of 74. The fact she lived to be 74 is something of a miracle in itself given the eventful life she led.
At the age of 21 or 22 she had some sort of seizure where she was assumed to have died. At her own funeral she popped out of her coffin and levitated to the ceiling of the Church. This event, not surprisingly, terrified her mourners who all fled the church, save for one of her sisters and the priest. These two carried on to the end of the Mass at which point the priest talked Christina into coming down from the rafters of the church. She then regalled the two with stories of having been to heaven, purgatory, and hell and from this time forward she would dedicate her life to the souls in purgatory.
She is recorded to have spent quite a bit of her time avoiding the smell of sin on her fellow humans by hiding in baking ovens, [apparently in the process of baking] at the tops of trees, and in general levitating herself away at need. She was considered either possessed by devils or miraculous in the extreme.
She lived in total poverty, essentially homeless until the last years of her life when she finally agreed to settle down in the convent of one of her only friends, a woman named Beatrice. St Christina has become the patron saint of those with mental illnesses and those who care for them, she is also the favoured saint for adoption as patron by the Autistic Community. Within my own life, I am inspired by Christina’s concern for souls in purgatory, but wish to translate it into a dedication to those who are suffering in this life, here on earth.
What is Rev’d Lynsay trying to do?
I believe that will begin with a self-selecting community of prayer. A community of people willing to cultivate that sense of wonder, which is the beginning of prayer, that will allow us to be astonished by the many ways God is at work in our lives and the lives of those around us.
At different times and in different parts of the church people’s idiosyncrasies have been allowed to show God’s purpose for the world. Christians have recognised God at work in the vulnerabilities of some and the strength of others. In an age running after idols of progress, wealth and perfection, I believe it is time to repent, to return to God and ask the potter to show us the delights of the endless variety in creation.
With the beginning of Advent 2017 the Astonishing Prayers Blog will launch, including prayers inspired by saints from across the Christian traditions, who today would be classed as “vulnerable”, hopefully cared for, but it is unlikely they would be recognised as especially holy. I’m hoping to retrain my eye, to retrain our eyes, our ears, to the ways in which all people are wonderfully revealing the image of God.
So how can you help?
At the moment I’m collecting stories of our contemporaries. People we know, whether they’re churchgoers or not, who have said or done something, or simply caused you to be in a situation where you’ve looked at the world differently and perhaps wondered about God.
It might be the love someone has for a very ordinary object, or the time they spend watching leaves blow. It might be about sitting in silence or learning to find patterns in noise. It might be about laughter, when you were about to give up or the relish with which a lasagna was consumed. If you have such a moment that you’re willing to share, with the person’s real name or a saintly pseudonym, I’d be really grateful if you could write it down and send it to me by e-mail or give it to me at church.
Yours in hope and wonder,