Last night I watched the movie ‘Temple Grandin’. The movie told part of the life story of a remarkable woman of the same name, who is an animal behavioural scientist and autistic. Because of her autism she is incredibly visual and has an innate way of understanding animal behaviour, and she has been revolutionary in making the cattle industry more humane.
One thing that struck me during the movie was the three times she asked the question of ‘where did it go?’, wanting to know what happened after the death of a horse, cow and then her science teacher. That same old question we all ask, about what happens after death.
Because of the way she saw and recalled images, when she first asked the question after a horse had died her science teacher suggested that it would live on in the images in her head.
It made me wonder about how different people must experience God. In some ways he is a rather abstract concept, we can’t physically see him and yet he is with us. How do different people then (particularly those with different life challenges) get to know God? The Wesleyan Quadrilateral gives us four sources that can be used for theological reflection – Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason, some which can be more abstract than others.
Scripture is what’s written in the Bible, and while some of it is literal or easier to understand, some of it is more abstract, eg when Jesus taught in parables, many are essentially similes, something that can be difficult for someone like Temple to understand. Tradition would likely be easier to understand, having elements of being habitual and routine in nature. Reason, which can have its basis in scientific understanding, might also be easier for someone to Temple, with her literal, fact-driven thinking. Experience however might be again more difficult, although it is a very God-driven thing, and we should never underestimate what he is capable of.
Temple’s simple questions made me reflect on the fact that not all people will experience God in the same way as me. It also made me wonder what we do within our faith communities to invite and help people who are ‘different but not less’ to get to know God, particularly when it might happen in a different manner to what we have ourselves experienced.