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Autistic pride My poetry

poem: stimming in 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

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, 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 Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author.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.