by David Morstad
Within the professional community and among disability advocates, the issue of spirituality has been elevated in recent years. Groups like the Arc and the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability have developed position statements on its importance, and there is a growing body of research literature in the area of disability and faith communities. The reason for this may be that it is natural for people to seek God, or, at least, something god-like. Some do their seeking within religious structures; others, simply by looking up or looking around and wondering, “Who?”, “Why?”, or “What if?” Whatever the context, we all seem to be seeking something.
In the 17th century, there was a French mathematician and chemist named Blaise Pascal. Even though he died at the age of 39, he did some pretty remarkable things. He developed theories of mathematics, and dabbled in physics, experimented with things like air pressure, and even developed some of the earliest barometers. He was also a philosopher and, putting it in terms he knew very well, he wrote, “In the heart of every person, there is a God-shaped vacuum that cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the creator.” That’s some mighty impressive imagery for a guy who lived in the 1600s.
How does one begin to approach the question of this vacuum, so vast and unseen, under even the best of human circumstances, let alone with a developmental disability? An unseen and almighty creator is an awfully big and abstract concept for a population of people who have a reputation of generally thinking in more basic and concrete ways. Where do we go with that?
Matters of faith may represent one of the great equalizers among people with and without disabilities. Drawn by our God-shaped vacuum, we all come seeking; and, along the way, the only thing we seem to discover is our own inadequacy.
There is a Psalmist (Psalm 139) who couldn’t care less about any of this. In fact, he seems to suggest that we might be missing the point altogether, and prefers to turn the whole question upside down. It is not so much the vastness of what we don’t know, but the vastness of how well we are known. When he speaks to the one whom he seeks, he says, “You search out my path…You discern my thoughts…Your knowledge is so high that I cannot attain it…Your eyes beheld me while I was yet unformed.” And then, after being known so thoroughly, acknowledges simply, “I come to the end — I am still with you.”
Once again, we face the great ‘Both/And’. We both seek, and we have been sought; we both strive to know, and we are fully known. The God-shaped vacuum does not invite intellect to a point of realization, it invites people into relationship. “I come to the end — I am still with you.”