I’ve been thinking a lot about Lenten disciplines this year, mostly trying to find alternatives ways of looking at them than just “I’m giving up this because it just happens to be Lent and we’re support be suffer, etc.” I’ve posed the idea that a Lenten discipline could (maybe even should) be something that transcends Lent and become part of your regular spiritual practice. I’ve suggested that a Lenten discipline could be something you add, rather than remove, from your life, like trying to get to know your neighbors more or praying more often.
But I was thinking this week that a Lenten discipline could by the Christian discipleship of autistic stimming. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a common trait of people with autism is the inability to filter sensory input. Most neuro-typical people can filter out background noise, or irritating fabrics in their clothes, or focus on listening to a single person in a crowded room. For the neuro-atypical individual, like a person with autism, all that input comes flooding in at once, and the experience can be overwhelming, even frightening. To cope in that situation, many people with autism will utilize behaviors that allow them to blot out the input by overwhelming a single sensory organ, like hearing or touch. So you may have seen people with autism humming loudly, moving their body by swaying or tapping their foot, or fidgeting with something in their hands. Some favor wearing hooded garments that they can pull up over their heads and cover their eyes and ears. If you ask, they will tell you that stimming helps them relieve pressure, ground themselves in reality, and gain control over their life.
The Desert Fathers (and mothers) of the early monastic period of Christianity knew the importance of shutting the doors to the room in which a person was praying to block out the noise and input from the outside. Finding complete silence in today’s world is even more challenging. But a possible way to view a Lenten discipline is something upon which you can focus to relieve the stress, ground yourself spiritually, and access your spiritual life. Perhaps you turn your phone completely off for an hour. Or you could take a moment and do nothing but listen to a bit of music. Or you could walk for a period of time every day with Christ. A Lenten discipline could be a thing that helps you shut out all the noise of the world, in your heart or your mind or your ears, give you the focus to claim a moment where you can be with yourGod.