It was during a visit to Specsavers for an eye test several years ago, when my wife Linda first realised there was a problem with her hearing.
Strange as that statement sounds, it’s true. Whilst waiting for her optician’s appointment, Linda noticed a pair of headphones on a table and, having followed the instructions to put them on, she then pressed some buttons and listened for different noises.
She thought she’d heard every sound, but at the end of the test the screen in front of her suggested she’d missed some, and recommended a visit to her GP for a more thorough investigation.
Last week was designated as “Deaf Awareness Week” and, from what I read, 1 in 6 people in the UK are deaf or experience some kind of hearing loss. However, what captivated me the other day, as I watched young YouTuber Kara Gillespie’s video to celebrate deaf awareness week, was how all the deaf young people featured saw their disability as something to be embraced, rather than endured.
“I’m proud to be deaf”, was one of the key messages in Kara’s presentation, suggesting that hearing impairment need not be a barrier to communicating with others.
Perhaps the most inspiring story of someone overcoming profound physical infirmity, that I recall first learning about in my childhood, is that of Helen Keller, born in America in the late nineteenth century, and who was the first deafblind person to attain a University degree in the United States.
Before her second birthday, Helen contracted an illness that left her deaf, blind and mute. But thanks to the perseverance and insight of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, who herself was partially blind, Helen lived the kind of full life that, at the time would have seemed impossible.
It was when Helen was seven years-old that Annie was first welcomed into the Keller household, and her repeated attempts to break into Helen’s lonely world were centred on the sense of touch - pressing sign language into the palm of Helen’s hand.
For a long time, Helen stubbornly resisted Annie’s help, but a breakthrough moment came on the day when Sullivan held Helen’s hand under the flow of liquid streaming from a cold water pump, and spelled out the word w-a-t-e-r repeatedly on the palm of her other hand.
Suddenly Helen responded, spelling out the same word on Annie’s hand. Sullivan achieved a breakthrough in communication on that day, that would go on to transform Helen Keller’s life.
In relation to communication, I’m reminded of what the Bible says about the many different methods God uses to attempt to speak to ordinary people such as you and me.
David’s observation as he looks to the skies at the beginning of Psalm 19 is, “The heavens tell about the glory of God. The skies announce what his hands have made. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.”
The apostle Paul takes up a similar theme when in Romans 1:19 he writes that “ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.”
We read in the Bible of God communicating to men and women through other people called prophets. In relation to the birth of Jesus, God spoke through angels, who he sent to tell a number of different folk the good news.
God also spoke to people such as Joseph & Jacob & Peter in their dreams. There’s also a strange incident in the Old Testament book of Numbers where a divine word of warning is given to a man named Balaam by his donkey, who speaks to Balaam in Hebrew!
Scripture repeatedly underlines to me that God wants to gain my attention so that he can tell me who he is, and how much I mean to him; but as pastor and author Rick Warren observes, “we often miss hearing God’s voice simply because we aren’t paying attention.”
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