Disability, Spirituality, and Miles’ Law

By David Morstad

Miles Law

The late Rufus Miles, who served under presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, developed this law from what he called, “memorable encounters with reality.”  The law posits  that we see things and form judgments about them based on our own perspective.  Further, we gain wisdom as we discipline ourselves to see things from where another “sits”.

Miles may not have had spirituality and its relationship to pervasive developmental disability in mind, but I think his law works.

When I look into the eyes of a person with a pervasive disability, my side of the internal conversation might go something like this:

God has given me gifts that, it would appear, you have not been given – my lifetime of experiences, a depth to my relationships, my awareness and a sense of myself that you do not know.  

I wonder if there is a way that I can help you to know God as I know God.  Or, must I trust in the grace and peace of God, that you will be held in the loving hand that made you.

God gave to me, his beloved child, intellect and reason.  It seems they are gifts that set me apart from the rest of creation.  But I wonder… Were they truly intended to set me apart in such a way? 

I wonder if there is a way that I can help you to know God as I know God.  But coming to know a God who is so vast and complex?  Surely it is impossible to imagine you will ever see what I see.   

Through the lens of Miles’ Law, I might suppose that same individual has a similar but importantly nuanced view of his relationship to me. Sitting where he sits, my friend might have thoughts similar to my own:

God has given me gifts that, it would appear,  you have not been given – my lifetime of experiences, a depth to my relationships, to my awareness and a sense of myself that you do not know.  

I wonder if there is a way that I can help you to know God as I know God.  Or, must we trust in the grace and peace of God, that we will be held in the loving hand that made us both.

On matters of cognitive function, sitting where we non-disabled folks sit, we seem uncomfortably content with our position of superiority and sophistication.  Sitting where another sits, might there be something more, some unique and unexpected insight made possible by circumstances we will never fully understand? Does my friend think:

I see the life you live and I sometimes wonder about intellect and reason.  Truly they are gifts and truly they are from God. I do find it strange, though, that you often use the gifts of intellect and reason to doubt whether the God who gave them even exists at all.  

I wonder if there is a way that I can help you to know God as I know God.  It has been said that the poor have access to knowledge that the rich will never understand.  Surely it is impossible to imagine you will ever see what I see.   

Where we stand on issues of intellect, gifts, what it means to be fully human, and the very image of God, seems to depend a lot on where we sit.

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