Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Windows to the Soul

When we discuss problems with in-laws or a partner's primary love language, we're talking about practical issues and how to successfully change our habits to address them. There's a topic I've been wanting to discuss that's in a completely different realm and I haven't known how to put it into words. Fr. Frank Pavone's recent blog post about eye contact unknowingly gets to the heart of my unresolved issue with my husband's Asperger's: it's in his eyes.
Eye Contact
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life

It’s a basic aspect of human relationships: make eye contact. When we fail to do so at the appropriate times, we fail to show interest in the other person. We may seem too distracted to care, or perhaps ashamed of something. Failure to make eye contact is failure to connect.
When you love a person, you want to look into his or her eyes, rather than loving from afar. You want to see the person’s face. Even the love of God is described this way. The Book of Revelation announces the ultimate destiny of the human family, the culmination of their salvation, in this way: “They shall see Him face to face” (Rev. 22:4)
The eyes teach us about the one who suffers, whether it be an animal or human victim. For a moment, we pierce the veil that separates our experience from theirs, and temporarily see and feel the world as they do.
OK, so my husband is literal in his speech.
OK, so he has trouble processing emotions.
OK, so he doesn't read between the lines.

These are all morally neutral differences between people which can be bridged with patience, knowledge, and perseverance. This is all in the realm of thoughts or feelings, but deeper than that is a longing in my soul they don't touch--a longing for my husband's salvation. My marriage is my vocation and my God-given work. It's the way I will learn and live and do to become the person I should be, and to help my husband and children do the same. We're not talking about my love language; we're talking about love itself.

My personality predisposes me to a certain set of sins. Gluttony isn't something I ever struggle with, but visit me on a particularly rough day and you'll most likely see me despairing, being slothful or vain, and I might be induced to unrighteous anger. Like every other faithful Catholic I know, I am constantly confessing the same struggles and failings. By willfully choosing to reorient myself and ask for His graces and forgiveness, I hope to eliminate these sins from my life and to bring my actions into accordance with God's will. Tears flow from my eyes as I long for better and more and know how short I've fallen of what I'm capable of achieving.
Baptism washes off those evils that were previously within us, whereas the sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. The baptism received by us as children we have all defiled, but we cleanse it anew with our tears. If God in His love for the human race had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find (St. John of the Ladder).
My husband's current inability to pierce this veil, to see and feel the world as others do, keeps him from knowing the pangs of love or the agony that comes from not living in accordance with it. I don't mean the giddy feeling of excitement, but the indescribable depths of emptying oneself for the sake of another that only composers and poets come close to conveying. It is out of this love that we were created and to it that we are called and in which my husband and I should be actively participating so that we can make it present for our children. It's the life and presence that can be seen in the eyes, the windows to the soul.
Matthew 6 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)
21For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
22The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.
23But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!
Most of the time, my husband's eyes are dull and cast downward. I've read of some people with Asperger's feeling actual pain from looking others in the eye because of the emotional intensity of it. There is no question to them that it is an intimacy, a vulnerability, and a sharing of themselves with another in a profound and personal way and it is for that reason they avoid eye contact. My husband hasn't expressed or shown discomfort from looking in people's eyes, but he rarely ever does. It symbolizes to me my husband's disconnect from the divine reality within and around him. They exemplify a self-servitude that is irreconcilable with living within a relationship, with one's wife or one's Creator. I know that when his eyes are lifeless that he will not be a spiritual leader of our family, will not see himself as someone who has done specific things he shouldn't have thus creating room for him to grow, and will not love me in this deep and abiding way to which he is called. I know when I look in my husband's eyes if he desires salvation for himself or for us not with intellectual assent, but with his soul. The answer often scares me.

Where is my husband's treasure? Where is his heart? Where is the light in his eyes? When his eyes shine because he is acting out of that Christ-like self-emptying love, everything else in our life falls into place. That doesn't mean it all becomes a bed of roses! It means that our yoke is heavy but our burden is light and we're able to successfully address these other issues. When it happens, it is like Saul on the road to Tarsus who had been blinded, but upon turning to God regains his sight and the rest of his life as St. Paul fell into place. "And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized... (Acts 9:18)" With that spiritual awakening, there is peace in our house. We have a harmony and an intimacy. It is as if we effortlessly float about, not even needing to take harsh plodding steps. Then with a snap it is gone. Thunk. We hit the floor and my husband walks away in a dull stupor, as if it were all a dream.

I don't think spiritual direction would, could, or should address those practical problems of in-laws or primary love languages, but it seems to me that there is a clear need for spiritual guidance that addresses the spiritual predispositions that having Asperger's inclines him to. For my husband, his sins are usually those of omission instead of commission. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety are likely to become scrupulous and need specific and different, often even contrary guidance than the mainstream receives, especially regarding their confessions. There are detailed guides for them available and special training for confessors for working with the scrupulous. I believe those with autism spectrum disorders require the same, including the need to place oneself under the guidance of a single spiritual director who is well-informed in how to address these needs.

I want to know that despite love languages and communication barriers and neurological wirings that my husband loves me. I want the peace that I get rare glimpses of to pervade our relationship and our home. I want to look in my husband's eyes and see God.
Ephesians 5
25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it:
26That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the layer of water in the word of life:
27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any; such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish.
28So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself.
29For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church:
30Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.
32This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church.


  1. Your emphasis on eye contact is a threat to your relationship.

    Normal people, very early in life, construct a feedback loop between sensory input and behavioural response that underpins socialisation and theory of mind. Aspies don't.

    This feedback loop is the basic for membership in human societies. We who lack it either don't know it exists and don't know of our lack, or have accepted the evidence for its existence and are searching for understanding of what it is we lack. The eye thing is intimately interwoven with all of that.

    Sorry to chase you home, but I'd read a number of your posts on Wrong Planet and wanted more.

  2. Thank you for chasing me home, as you call it! I hope you visit and write many more times! By interacting with others, it is the only way that I can grow as a wife and help to improve my marriage. I need all the help I can get because I'm far from perfect.

    I had wanted to write about how Asperger's was hurting Andrew's relationship with God and because of that hurting our family's spiritual life, which has effects on our marriage and physical life, but I couldn't really put it into words. After reading Father's post about eye contact, the symbolism of it gave me the clarity to try to put it into words.

    I don't care that my husband doesn't usually make eye contact. I can deal with that just fine. The dullness in his eyes during large periods of time is a symptom of a spiritual dullness when he isn't building his relationship with God and it corresponds with times that I complain on a physical level that I feel like I married a robot.

    A comparison would be if a person had a fever and the doctor said, "We want to get this mercury on the thermometer to go down to 98.6." The doctor doesn't really care about the mercury. He cares about the person being well and therefore wants to get rid of the fever, but the doctor knows that if the fever is properly addressed that the thermometer's mercury will also go down. I believe if my husband's relationship with God is properly addressed that the vibrance in his eyes will increase. It isn't that I care about the vibrance or about eye contact any more than a doctor cares about a thermometer's mercury or despises warm temperatures. It is that the eyes have been an accurate gauge for spiritual health in our life, which is an idea largely supported by both secular and religious thought. I want my husband to be spiritually healthy and that is my only issue. Does that make sense?

  3. Is your husband also Catholic?

    When my husband and I discuss spirituality, I think he understands it in a "text book" sense, but will never truly grasp the spiritual piece of spirituality, as much as he would like to.

    I don't think that eye contact causes him physical pain, but it clearly makes him uncomfortable. "Failure to make eye contact is failure to connect.." I tend to agree.

  4. Abby,

    Andrew is also Catholic. I don't know how to word what I want to say, but I think the closest is that he's very good at being Catholic, and not so good at being a Christian, which is a fundamental and integral part of being Catholic.

    On an intellectual, philosophical, theological, and physical level he's Catholic. It isn't me pushing that onto him. He has theological interests distinct from my own. In my opinion, this is real but it usually doesn't go any deeper than the physical level. All this external is there only to affect the internal. The fasting is to learn self-discipline, the liturgical movement is to have one's body, mind and soul all expressing the same thing at the same time. He goes through all the motions, but it doesn't seem to change anything.

    I don't mean change as in he's broken goods for having AS, I mean the growth and change that each one of us should be striving for on account of being humans. There are large lengths of time that I get the impression he really thinks he's perfect and doesn't have anything to work on. He really doesn't think he sins because he can't think of a single time he's done something he oughtn't. I could volunteer plenty! LOL! (I don't.)

    And then at times, inexplicably, it is like a lightbulb goes off or a locked door is opened and he really gets it. Like the scales have fallen from his eyes and everything is different. There are rare moments that I even see my husband with tears of repentance trickling out of the corner of his eyes. Our whole life is pervaded with peace then and he's such a wonderful man, husband, father, Catholic, Christian. I respect and admire him so much during those times. Then just as suddenly and inexplicably, it's gone. It is like someone flipped a light switch and the eyes go dark and I have no idea when it will be back again.

    Because I've seen these glimpses, I know he's more than capable of it and he would benefit from a knowledgeable and patient spiritual director who could help him spiritually grow. I don't think any of them would have the ideas or concepts to work with him, though. They're trained to recognize scrupulosity, sloth, and so on, and not to see how a theory of mind, as the bloke said, is different or lacking, much less how to help. I think we'd have to first train a spiritual director, and I don't know anything about where to start.