sing like never before
Adam stands beside me and his voice climbs, higher and higher toward the sky, pushing, pressing, growing.
Sing like never before, oh my soul.
Like everyone else, Adam has different voices for different kinds of experience. This voice with which he sings is his voice for joy, for love, for comfort. It’s the same voice with which he talks to his dad when they share a joke and the words tumble out with his laughter. Adam moves—forward, back, forward, back—with motion to match not the rhythm of worship but the pace of his own experience of it, and the motion is full and fast and all-encompassing. Worship is the only thing besides being beside the sea that offers my son this kind of freedom.
I am often so attentive to skin and bone, to the sensation of the chair against my legs, the fabric of my dress laying in smooth lines over muscle, fat, vein. I think of later, of the heaviness of feelings, of so many cluttering, dusty things still hugging my wrists, my ankles; hanging from my shoulder, stuffed in my bag or weighting my arms. But Adam’s voice—pure and imploring and bending with emotion—carries me off the floor and away from the chairs, apart from body and tired and hungry and needing, past limitation of any kind.
And yet, I ache deeply over this child of mine, finding him so limited. I ache because I am earthbound. I am sore over his silences, forever bruised somewhere deep, always tender-sensitive to the ways his struggle over words holds him separate.
Monday afternoon, Kevin and Adam walk in, salty and sun-touched from a trip to the beach for Surfer’s Healing. “Oh, but that salt air,” Kevin says, laying a hand against my back, “it’s like breathing-Freedom,” I say, finishing his sentence, meeting his eyes. I reach up and wrap my arms around Kevin’s neck to hug him, and he smells like sunscreen, all coconut and warmth.
“He had a great time,” Kevin says, filling in the sketchy lines for me—how he and Adam opened the doors when they arrived and just breathed; how the two of them rode the trolley alone in the open air; how Adam’s group had been the last of the day, and things were nearly winding down. The surfer helping Adam had first shown Adam how to kneel on the front of the long surf board, then he had paddled out into the ocean. Together, they waited, Adam on his knees, the surfer, whose name was Jason, laying against the board. When the right swell gathered, the surfer stood and lifted Adam to his feet, and then they rode in on the crest. “They caught several good ones,” Kevin says, and I can almost hear Adam giggling. I’ve seen that grin before, that unleashed soul. I know how my son’s laughter sounds traveling in on ocean breezes, rolling toward me with the waves.
I turn to Adam, who has been walking in circles in and out of the kitchen, spinning backward every few feet, absorbed in a thousand sensations I hardly notice unless I make it my intention to consider them.
“Did you have fun today?” I ask him.
“Yes,” he says briefly, softly, spinning away from me.
These are the moments when Autism hurts, when I desperately wish I could touch him and repair the broken things that keep him from being able to tell me what it was like to be there, how he feels. I want him to be able to stand still and tell me what Kevin does in his stead, how his new surfer friend taught him how to make the shaka sign with his hand, the hand sign we often translate “hang loose,” but which is used in Hawaiian culture to indicate many things ranging from simple greeting to friendship, compassion, and understanding. I want him to stop and show me, to make the sign for me in the air, to wait for me to do it as well. I want him to say, “Mom, it was AMAZING! I surfed! See, look, you go like this–” But instead, he smiles–a smile that reaches all the way into his bright blue eyes–and he turns his head just slightly, seeing the thoughts, and flapping his hands a beat, he simply says, “yes,” and then returns to spinning around the kitchen. His words stay where they are, trapped, just out of his reach and ours.
Kevin feels this too, catching up my thoughts with his words, speaking them into solid shape. “I took him to get a snack on our way home, and he had the hardest time telling me what he wanted to drink. He was so excited about getting a drink, and I asked him what he wanted, and he waved his finger in the air in front of the bottles, but he couldn’t seem to get the words out, even written right there. He could manage, ‘My favorite drink is,’ but he just kept saying that. ‘My favorite drink is,’ ‘my favorite drink is.’ He couldn’t seem to fill in the blank.” Kevin says this shaking his head, remembering the moment, feeling it. “It’s funny sometimes, what he can manage to say and what he can’t. You can see that he knows, that he’s trying, but he just can’t manage to say it.”
For an instant, we just look at each other, Kevin and me, sharing the ache, breathing together in a carved space where we are sheltered together by God. This is the ache that sometimes gathers about my wrists and ankles, slowly encircling my neck, bearing down on my shoulders like a weight. I carry it with me all the time, like a grief that never leaves, and I depend on God to help me see things rightly. There is a hope unbound by the limitations of this world, a power and a love that have overcome these temporary troubles. And now, standing beside me in worship, Adam testifies to that hope with an unbound voice, with a freedom of expression that shatters the shadows, a freedom most of us have only just tasted.
Beside me, he sings, “…Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes…For all of your goodness, I will keep on singing, 10, 000 reasons for my heart to find…bless the Lord, oh my soul, worship His holy name. Sing like never before, oh my soul…” His voice cracks with feeling. He can’t sing loud enough.
When I look at Adam, this beautiful son of mine, he wipes tears from his eyes with his palms, then the sides of his hands, then his fingers. And it makes me smile, remembering. For a long, long time, God is So Good was his favorite song. He cried every time.
..Bless the Lord, oh my soul, oh my soul, worship His Holy name…
“Mom. Dad and Adam are both crying,” Zoe says, stumbling in from the aisle, rearranging us, positioning herself where she most likes to be: by my side. She searches my face, and her eyes turn desperate. I am crying too.
It’s the song we are singing, the song she’s missed while late in the hall with her friends or taking care of some physical need; this song that pierces, that tears down every sensation, every thought that otherwise clutters our attention. Worship has unbound our hearts, our souls. Singing Truth with my son has cleaned my eyes to see the goodness of God—10,000 reasons for my heart to find. Our tears in worship are only the seeping of Living Water, welling up from within unto eternal life (John 7:37,38). And sometimes in worship, the Spirit shocks me with sudden seeing, with knowing that clears away the shade.
Sing like never before, oh my soul.
I nod, giving Zoe a bleary smile, letting a thin tear go uncaught.
“What happened?” She asks, still desperate, burying her forehead into the side of my neck.
“Later,” I whisper, returning to the worship, to this soul-free space, this glorious glimpse of inheritance:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:3-6).
So many of us never find freedom in worship. We’re so afraid and so selfish and so cluttered, and that limits us. It traps the words. It stops up the praise before it reaches our lips and keeps our hands clasped in our laps. We complain about insignificant details and matters of preference, never quite transcending the chairs we sit in. And it’s these limitations that concern God (Isaiah 1:13), these things that strip our worship of its meaning. I know sometimes God aches over us, His children, longing to touch us and remove all the broken things that keep us from fully expressing Love.
I look at my son, the way he lifts his head, the way the muscles tighten in his neck as he sings, and I see that despite the limits through which we all see him, he is most blessed. And He knows it.
Oh my soul, sing. Sing like never before.