“Poop! HaHa! Poop! HaHa!” Carly was most definitely amusing herself as she lay on the floor repeating that word—erupting into laughter. A few of the kids weren’t able to contain themselves and began laughing along. Others were angry and started yelling at her to shut up. My volunteers just looked at me like deer in the head lights. And I just shrugged my shoulders, which in this case meant “Somebody please fire me”, which might have been a distinct possibility since my boss was observing Kids Club that night.
Despite how stressful it was, this scene makes me smile today. Carly is autistic and her presence in Kids Club has been difficult at times. But her presence also firmly placed a magnifying glass over our program and revealed the obvious need to slow things down a bit. Kids Club has always been chaotic—complete with running, yelling, cartwheels, flying kickballs, and no shortage of crying. Carly’s reactions became the catalyst we needed to say, “Something has to change.” She taught me a great deal about how to structure Kids Club, and she even joined a chorus of others—mostly my wife and a couple of books—in teaching me the importance of slowing things down externally for the benefit of our centeredness internally. In short, Carly became a sort of Spiritual Director for me.
Perhaps Carly’s influence on Kids Club has a significance for those of us pursuing a contemplative spirituality in the West. Our culture is one of over indulgence, over entertainment, and over stimulation. All of these things form a loud static through which hearing the deepest rhythms of God in the Universe becomes nearly impossible. Carly began to do better in Kids Club when we reduced the level of intensity of our games, simplified our schedule, and offered the kids more predictability. My family began to feel the fog lift at home when we reduced the amount of stuff we had, created an intentional family rhythm, and sought a deeper connection to the natural world by getting our beloved hens.
My initial reaction to this wisdom was similar to that of the kids at Joshua Station. I panicked. I couldn’t imagine my life without the noise that had become so normal. I am grateful that panic eventually gave way to a sense of simply trusting the process that was unfolding. It’s a process that helped Carly stay engaged at Kids Club and it’s a process that allows me to hear more of that deep rhythm in the universe as well as within myself. It is a rhythm seldom heard in our culture, but it is nothing short of transformational.
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