I appear to be in a season of blue light: blue light coming from fingertips last month, blue light in the Divine Mercy image and now, blue light for “Light It Up Blue,” for Autism Awareness month.
I had one of my rare moments of clarity meditating on the Divine Mercy image this month, which shows Christ with streams of red and blue light coming from Him, representing his blood and the water that came from His side on the cross. Your darling godson Liam, as you know, is autistic. His favorite color? Red. The color for autism? Blue. Coincidence? I think not. I will never again be able to look at that image without thinking of the Lord’s Divine Mercy pouring out for Liam and all autistic kiddos. Oh, and all of us, of course.
But first, a bit about that image. While I love the story of St. Faustina and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which promises great mercy at the hour of death. I must confess that I have always found the image itself a little (don’t hate me) hokey. Ok, since I have not been stricken down since writing that, let me explain. It’s hard for anyone to pull off a look that includes rays of light streaming from them. I realize this is the image Christ gave to St. Faustina but is there any room for reinterpretation here?
I have always suffered from a more Protestant aesthetic when it comes to religious art. The pastor at our last church took a lot of heat for not displaying the Divine Mercy image but, honestly, I was on his side. While our tradition includes some of the most amazing art ever produced, it also includes lot of art that needs explanation and some of it is rooted in a very specific place and time (i.e. dated). Some of it can be a little over the top. I am reminded of my Great Aunt Jo’s Infant of Prague statue, which to this day, I maintain was
the Catholic equivalent of a Creepy Clown. I know its eyes followed me around the room. When we cleaned out her apartment after her death, I darn sure made certain that the Infant of Prague ended up in one of Cousin Frances’s boxes. My point? Some art can be inspiring and some can be distracting.
However, I did find inspiration in our current church’s new Divine Mercy stained glass window (above). See? It doesn’t have to be that bad. And I was inspired to see my son’s personal struggle with autism in it. Sure, his behavior earned us our share of dirty looks and people moved away from us in church in the early years. By the time he was in first grade, though, many in the congregation had become Liam converts and were incredibly supportive. Our pastor regularly singled him out during his homilies, people loved his over-enthusiastic sign of peace and would seek him out to be “Peaced by Liam.” He had an early fascination with the Eucharist and, while he never paid attention during religious ed (RE) class, he could tell me everything about the sacrament. As the special ed RE teacher told me, “These kids really get it.” I will never forget his first confession, where he exited in tears, went straight in front of the altar and prostrated himself on the stone floor of the church for his penance. He sees the image of Jesus everywhere and to this day, expresses his anger at Adam and Eve for blowing everything for us. One of his favorite books is the Book of Revelation section of The Action Bible. Ted and I are often stunned by the depths of his spirituality. Liam’s autism gives him many challenges but he has also been blessed with a unique spiritual connection with Jesus. His own particular brand of Divine Mercy.
In this season of Divine Mercy and Autism Awareness, I’d like to give a shout out to everyone in our Church who sees the divine in these amazing kiddos and works to include them in our community, rather than scowl at them or move away from them. Kudos to the churches who offer special education religious education or special ed in their Catholic schools, or that offer other programs for our special needs kids. Thanks to sensitive catechists who appreciate sensory issues when getting children ready to receive communion and other sacraments. Blessings to the priests who set the tone and example of inclusiveness in the congregation. Thanks to the parents who work to ensure that their special kids can participate fully in the Mass. Thanks to these amazing kiddos for helping us experience our faith in a whole new way. And thanks to Jesus, for Lighting It Up Blue in our Church.
For a godmother who has been there every step of the way.