I’ve known about this popular saint for a long time, but I first began to really think about him while praying the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children. The Akathist only softly alludes to St. John Climacus, but this was the thing that strongly and permanently linked him to William for me:
“Raise my children to ascend the ladder of their lives every day.”
And, oh, what a ladder.
“The Ladder of Divine Ascent” is a tough work, and actually, I haven’t read it. It’s one of those important titles that comes with the warning: Do Not Read Without Proper and Active Guidance; Contents Extremely Combustible. So, being the sort of person who picks up a book and goes, “Hm. I’d like to read this one. I think I’ll do it right now,” St. John’s “Ladder” is one that I only know second-hand so far.
But I’ve read about him, and I know well his illustration of our earthly life as a ladder, precariously climbing our way to Christ.
I can’t help but look at this icon and think, that’s a scary climb. And sometimes, when you’re a special needs family, it feels like maybe we’ve been targetd by more demons than most, actively trying to pull us off the ladder.
So I’ve looked to St. John for some words of comfort, and he has some wisdom for the autism community, and for those who look in on it.
“Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions.”
At first, when I read this line, I’ll admit, I guffawed a little. Voluntary, eh? That’s cute.
But it is voluntary. No, William did not strike a deal with God when he was in utero, or say, hey God, I’m super bored with normal brains. Think you could do something a little different with mine this month? Nope, he didn’t choose to have autism, and I didn’t choose it for him, either. But every day, every moment, we have a choice.
Do we choose to endure this with patience? Or do we choose to hate it and complain about it?
Continual repentance will depend on our patient endurance. We won’t find ourselves humble and desirous of Christ’s mercy if we can’t be patient and depend on Him to help us refine our souls in the midst of trouble.
Living in exile
“Exile is a separation from everything, in order that one may hold on totally to God.”
To have autism is to experience exile. It’s to be outside a world that’s misunderstood you, and often times won’t have you.
But St. John saw a benefit to this. In fact, he exiled himself to solitary living for forty years. He escaped the world to “hold on totally to God.”
The autism community is rather forced into this, unfortunately, and I say “unfortunately” because the forcible part of it really changes that dynamic. But hey. While we’re out here, and while there’s opportunity to learn this virtue of holding on totally to God, I say let’s take it.
This world isn’t our home, anyway.
Fighting with joy–not fear
“Let us charge into the good fight with joy and love without being afraid of our enemies. Though unseen themselves, they can look at the face of our soul, and if they see it altered by fear, they take up arms against us all the more fiercely. For the cunning creatures have observed that we are scared. So let us take up arms against them courageously. No one will fight with a resolute fighter.”
Are you afraid?
If not, I respect that. See, I pretty much 99.98% of the time have the ever-living junk scared out of me when I think about William’s future. And I know he gets scared, too.
But this tidbit from St. John is helpful.
In fact, I am not being lazy when I say this, but everything I have attempted to add to this glorious quote has ruined and oversimplified it. Best thing I can tell you to do is go back up there and read it again. It’s so good, right?
Thanks be to God.
So, friends. Let’s lower our eyes from the wind and the waves, the pit below the ladder that we climb toward Christ, the battle that rages around. Let us climb the ladder of our lives, with faith and love. St. John Climacus, pray unto God for us!