I/DDs and Theopoetics

Evan Underbrink

Evan Underbrink

The aim of my presentation will be to consider what good persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DDs) can derive from the application of the field of Theopoetics. I argue that art which is particularly focused in the divine reality of God and God’s manifest presence in Christ as disclosed through the Holy Spirit is essential to a context which is inclusive to people who cannot be assumed to have what we would define as a functioning, rational mind. It is because we cannot assume this rational use of imagination to engage art that art centered in a connection that is beyond rational accordance or conversation is necessary.
Beginning with a Plotinian conception of beauty, which creates a general longing for the divine reality, I will argue that this longing is answered in the person of Christ. Because this longing is answered in a person who has also offered himself to all people, regardless of intellectual ability or physical development, every person has an ability to connect to divine through the work of the Holy Spirit. As art is particularly focused on a super-rational account of reality, it is uniquely capable of expressing spiritual truth. By considering Erich Auerbach’s words on mimesis, the poet can mirror divine reality, which allows all people who have an experience of the divine reality through Christ to be drawn into Shalom, or a community of blessed fellowship. This is the good and fitting end for which Theopoetics in I/DD communities should strive.
The nature of my presentation will be of education, exhortation, and apologetics. I will provide a solid, theological foundation through such figures as Plotinus, Erich Auerbach, John Swinton, Jean Vanier, and Stanley Hauerwas to allow the scholar and academic to see the reasonable conclusion that Theopoetics is inclusive, if not essential, for faith communities that wish to care for their brothers and sisters of varying degrees of ability. Having established this foundation, I hope to encourage artists to produce art with the I/DD community in mind. This will both help the artist better refine their work around a divine realism, and to be consistent with the Christian mission to care for the marginalized in our society. My presentation will also critique the underlying assumption in the academic field of Theopoetics and the companies which care for I/DDs, that because poetry often relies of complex language or themes, it is of limited benefit to people who lack what is considered a functioning, rational mind. I will assert that this idea is false, pervasive, and detrimental to the faith and spiritual development of these communities.
The scope of my paper will remain to a careful reading and application of the above mentioned philosophers and theologians, and my personal experiences working and using Theopoetics within various I/DD communities. I will draw some statistical analysis of the use of art in general to the education and development of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but my argument remains substantially within the conceptual with particular case studies.