Categories
Autistic pride My poetry

Poem: at that banquet

there will be straws
at that banquet

and all the bread will be gluten free

and no one will go away hungry because
there was no food that fit their dietary needs

and the table will be high enough
for wheelchairs to slide easily beneath it

and no one will gawk at those of us
who have trouble sitting still so long
and stand instead, and stomp our feet

and no one will grab our flapping wrists and hiss, “quiet hands!”
(God, i cannot wait to never hear that hateful phrase again)

and Jesus, there you will be,
not at the head of the table

but in the middle of things
breaking bread with hands that struggle a little,
impeded by the damage done to your fine motor skills
when the nails pierced your wrists

and with a wheelchair stationed behind you
that friends can push you in when the chronic pain
in your nail-damaged feet becomes too much

and we will all share in the lopsided chunks
of gluten free bread that is your body
or the cups of juice with straws in them that is your blood

and there will be laughter, oh there will be laughter
loud and carefree

communicated through AAC
or sign language or smiling mouths
as we finally learn what it means to be

truly One: united, not in spite of but through
diversity.


[image: a mural by Hyatt Moore based on Luke 14′s parable of the banquet. There’s a blue background and lots of people gathered at a long table with a white tablecloth piled with food. There are persons of many different races and cultures and with various disabilities, including several in wheelchairs or with canes or crutches, several who have down syndrome, one with a service dog, and so on. Jesus stands near the right end of the canvas, conversing with a child of color in a wheelchair and an older Black man in a wheelchair. /end id]


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: I wrote this poem as part of a project on disability theology for a class in seminary. I began my research into Luke 14’s parable of the banquet during that project, and I’m pretty sure at this point I’ve read more articles and books on Luke 14 than any other scripture passage (except perhaps Exodus 4). You can watch me discuss this text at length on my YouTube channel in the video “Luke 14 – Disabled persons are vital guests at God’s banquet.”

This poem is one of a few in which I try to envision what “perfect accessibility” would look like. In our own world, such a thing is nigh impossible, because sometimes what accommodates me may actually harm another disabled person. For instance, I struggle with loud chaotic noises and crowds, which are pretty much unavoidable at a banquet scene like the one in Luke 14 or in this poem! Could the banquet hall include a side chamber for people like me to calm down when needed – but somehow not isolate us? Will my autism manifest itself differently in heaven so that I do not become so overwhelmed by crowds – without losing what makes me me? These are important questions to explore as we work to make our faith communities as welcoming and accessible as possible – even while knowing we probably will never get it perfect for everyone. Being willing to own up to our mistakes and truly listen to what individuals say they actually need is key.

Some notes that might help in the reading of this poem:

  • Straws are mentioned a couple times as they are a vital tool to some disabled people and movements to ban straws were spreading across the United States when I wrote this poem. See this article for more information: https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/7/19/17587676/straws-plastic-ban-disability
  • the mentioned phrase quiet hands is one frequently used in abusive therapies (such as ABA) that try to get autistic people to be as “normal” (read: non-autistic) as possible. “Quiet Hands” is a command to keep one’s hands still rather than stimming with them. Being forced to repress behaviors that come naturally, such as stimming, can go so far as to cause PTSD in autistic people. See this webpage for more information: http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Quiet_Hands
  • AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication – methods of communicating apart from verbal speech. AAC devices include writing in a notebook and electronic speech-generating devices. See this webpage for more information: https://www.prentrom.com/caregivers/what-is-augmentative-and-alternative-communication-aac
  • For more on Jesus’s own disabling wounds, with which he chose to rise and ascend into heaven, check out The Disabled God by Nancy Eiesland or by listen to/read my sermon on John 20 The Wounds of Jesus: Goodness Embodied.”
    …Or just email me – it’s like my favorite topic ever and I’m always thrilled to get to discuss it!

“The disabled God is God for whom interdependence is not a possibility to be willed from a position of power, but a necessary condition for life. …For many people with disabilities, too, mutual care is a matter of survival.

To posit a Jesus Christ who needs care and mutuality
as essential to human-divine survival does not symbolize either humanity or divinity as powerless.
Instead it debunks the myth of individualism and hierarchical orders, in which transcendence means breaking free of encumbrances and needing nobody and constitutes the divine as somebody in relation to other bodies.”

– Nancy Eiesland in The Disabled God

“The text [of Luke 14] clearly situates people with impairments at the final banquet just as they are, not with their impairments erased or made invisible. …Consistent with the presence of the scars on Jesus’ resurrected body, here the marks of impairment are not cured or expunged.

What would a world in which impairments
will not be eliminated but rather “redeemed” look like? For Eiesland, such a world is one in which justice comes for disabled people in the form of perfect accessibility and mutuality:
a justice that removes the barriers which constrain our bodies, keep us excluded, and intend to humiliate us.’”

– Amos Yong in The Bible, Disability, and the Church

Categories
Autistic pride My poetry

poem: stimming worship

David,

you did not let their mockery or judgment
shame you into freezing up your limbs
when your whole body – overcome with awe
and bursting at the seams with joy in God –
could not bear to keep still…

he danced
before the Ark
with all his might:

worship 
embodied,
God's delight

David, i too know
the sting of loved ones grabbing at your hands
demanding that you quiet them –
the pain of their shame
at the way your body moves –

and i too, i too know
the courage it takes
to move anyway

you despise me but
the slave girls love me – 
for i gladly sink 
in the world's eyes
till i stand 
eye level with their giggling –
propriety be damned!"

i will stim
as this body my God made for me desires:

i will strum my hand in time
to the guitar’s praise-song
i will flap my hands like the trees of the field
when the preacher’s words ignite my heart –

i will hum when things become
too loud and bright for me
if humming is the life preserver that can carry me
back into God’s open arms –

and if they treat me like a child
because of how i move or talk
or because i use stim tools that look like toys to them, well

God gives wisdom to the little ones
to make the wise into fools

so call me child!
i will flap and tap and rock God’s wisdom
into the pews where you stand
so stiff and decorous.

David, you are not alone
before the Ark! i stand with you:
together we throw back our heads
and laugh at their shocked faces

as the Spirit spins around
above beside beneath within
our stomping feet, our dancing hands

Amen, Amen, Amen…

This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

To see Avery read an older version of this poem (and talk more about being autistic in church) watch this YouTube video.


About this poem: Stimming is defined as “a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner” (http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Stimming). Autistic people stim in order to have some agency over their bodies’ sensory input and output; doing so helps prevent under- or overstimulation.

I wrote the first draft of this poem when I realized how the embarrassed or jeering reactions to David’s embodied worship in 2 Samuel 6 reminded me of my own loved ones’ reactions to my stimming in public – they too were embarrassed, because didn’t I know what strangers were thinking of me? of them by association?

But autistic bodies are good bodies; our movements are good movements; and worship that employs and celebrates the kinds of bodies that God has given us is good worship.

When I turned this poem in as part of a project in seminary, here’s the explanation I wrote for it:

I wrote the first draft of this poem some time ago. However, after I used the lectio divina exercise to read 2 Samuel 6’s account of David dancing before the Ark, I was inspired to revise and extend the poem. Just as Robert Orsi describes how praying the rosary invites persons to “imagine themselves in Mary’s shoes, to feel her pain with her and to invite her into their own pain” (p. 63 of Between Heaven and Earth), so my reading of 2 Samuel 6 using the method of lectio divina led me to imagine myself in David’s shoes (or rather, his naked feet). I felt what David felt — the ecstasy of his dance as his bare skin shimmered in the sun; the intensity of his love for God; the self-consciousness he put to the side in order to worship God with his body.

I took special notice of a verse I had overlooked in previous readings — it is David’s response to his wife Michal’s disgust over him uncovering himself “before the eyes of his servants’ maids”: he tells her, “I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor” (2 Samuel 6:22). This statement reminds me of liberation theology’s preferential option for the poor:

David does not care what higher-ups think of him, but rather how he can put himself and the “lowest” of his people on the same level.

He will disregard everything else, even his own reputation, in order to reach out to these persons. After all, David may have kingly status now, but he once was an obscure shepherd boy, the youngest of eight; of course he has empathy and love for the lowliest maids!

As I revised my poem, I pondered how my own behaviors impact marginalized members of my society, and how I like David can choose to level the field between myself and them instead of worrying about the judgment of the privileged. In stimming freely and proudly from places of “authority” as a minister, for example, I don’t just liberate myself — I also liberate those who see me who were too weighed down by self-loathing or fear of what others might think to stim before. Seeing that they are not alone in how their body moves, they might gain the courage to stim freely too.