Because Chris, one of my stepsons, is a special-needs adult with developmental disabilities, I am tuned in to such people and especially to their spiritual sensitivities. Which leads me to this story:
The other morning my wife had to take Chris to the hospital because he had developed an infection. The first full day he was there, his three group-home roommates came to visit him along with staff who help to manage that small home.
I already had left by the time they arrived but my wife still was in the room. She later told me that Chris's three roommates all gave him a hug and told him they loved and missed him.
Then the highest-functioning of the three asked my wife if they would be allowed to say a prayer for Chris.
"Of course," Marcia said.
So they all joined hands around Chris's bed and one of Chris's roommates prayed. Marcia said it was a lovely and touching moment.
The religious impulse is deep and profound. It seems not to be wiped out by mental retardation or developmental disabilities, though, of course, each person is different and reacts differently to such matters.
But I find it encouraging that even people who might be expected not to grasp the concept of God at all -- or at least many of them -- seem to be fully capable of a relationship with the divine. My guess is that people who work closely and regularly with the developmentally disabled population have some wonderful stories to tell about their spirituality.
And for sure Chris was touched by the visit of his friends and the prayer offered on his behalf.
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WHY IS THIS HARD, PRAY TELL?
It's hard to imagine why so many Americans seem not to understand the church-state separation required by the Constitution. Here's a description of another obvious case in which a school board caved into community sentiment that runs afoul of constitutionally rooted requirements that the government not foster one or another religion. This is pretty simple stuff, folks.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.