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At a recent church function, a friend of mine leaned over to me and commented, “You can’t whisper to deaf people.”
She continued to describe her feelings when people who know she has a difficulty understanding under ordinary conditions lean over to her and whisper a message in her ear, thinking she received it.
Her response is a smile she hopes will cover all bases. She trusts it will also conceal the fact she did not understand a word of what they said and did not indicate her approval of something she may well have disapproved, if she were able to hear clearly.
We both nodded in agreement that this inability was more than annoying. It was an impediment to living well.
Hubby Dear is among the multitude of people globally who have difficulty understanding words encased in a world of sound.
He has two “mechanical” hearing aids ensconced in his ears and one human one at his side. That would be me.
Aids and all, he yet is unable to distinguish clearly words that begin with letters bearing a similar sound. B and P, T and D, F and S, among others, melt into each other making comprehension and spelling nearly impossible.
Phone calls, even with special equipment, become irritants and cause frustration. Television programs cannot be enjoyed unless the volume is raised beyond others’ comfort zone. Life looses its zest. Limitations loom large.
My friend continued her conversation by asking me to write about this predicament. She made her request more than once during the afternoon, so I knew well how important it was to her.
Moreover, she continued her assessment by telling me she had thought long and hard about the topic and had contemplated ways in which it affects believers.
She reasoned there are churchgoers who are similarly impaired, individuals and congregations that are presented with the word of God, but are not understanding it. They hear but do not comprehend, or hear only bits and pieces, coming to partial, therefore erroneous, judgments.
Concluding, she repeated her first observation, “You can’t whisper to deaf people. So, shout the message.”
I knew she was not speaking of using a loud voice, but of being convicted and committed to God’s truth.
Shout the message with a life lived in justice, mercy, compassion and profound love. Shout the message with a body language that emits and evokes joy in the face of sorrow. Shout the message in an attitude of gratitude, modeling courage and hope for those who know only discouragement and despair.
When I met Hubby Dear’s audiologist, she gave me some tips that would assist him. Never speak with my back turned to him. Be certain always to be face-to-face. Do not utter statements to the ceiling or the floor. Speak clearly and distinctly but be sure you are near enough to be seen, as well as heard. Be aware of distractions that would complicate the hearing process. Know the world is a noisy place. Create a space where hearing ability can be boosted.
The lessons are easily transferred to the realm of religious experiences. I wonder how often we are sufficiently cognizant of those times when we have turned our backs on those whom we have dismissed as unable or unwilling to hear what we perceive to be God’s message, even, perhaps especially, when it may be the message God wants us to deliver.
How often do we speak to a heavenly ceiling or a hellish floor, paying little or no heed to those who are standing right in front of us? How often do we speak in denominational language, using vocabulary familiar to us, but foreign to others? How often do we make declarations about faith and religion that are not really clear to us, that are not distinctly present in our lives?
I guess I need to ask myself those questions and more. I need to be aware of my nearness to others or distance from them. I need to measure my ability to see and be seen as a person of faith. I need to note the distractions that keep me from being God’s messenger as well as the ones that keep others from hearing God’s voice.
I need to make my world, our world, a less noisy place. I need to create a space where all can hear as best they can.
The calling is challenging. It is also crucial to our common well being. All of us, with or without a hearing impairment, thrive in an atmosphere where Sabbath rest is more than a trip to church, temple, synagogue, mosque, meeting room, assembly hall or any other place of worship. We thrive in an ambience of caring love, acceptance and kindness.
We grow when we are in the presence of others who stay near, no matter what the circumstances. We flourish in the warmth of understanding. We blossom when we are given the time and silence to speak, to share what we know and have gleaned from our unique experience.
We quickly learn that all of us have hearing impairments of one sort or another. We all rankle at truths that poke at our pretense, truths that call us higher and deeper into the divine realm.
Perhaps we whisper so our strident voices can be softened, our truth might be offered in quiet rather than in noisiness. Perhaps we whisper because we are afraid that we are not as prophetic as we proclaim.
However, when we whisper, the deaf cannot hear. Shout we must.
Shout God’s message by standing near enough for the hearing impaired to read our lips, lips that speak blessing rather than curses, goodness in the place of evil, acceptance instead of alienation, respect not rejection.
Shout the message with joy and know that the whisper of God’s presence. Know that God’s nearness, will be clearly heard, understood and received. Know that God rejoices in us, renews us in divine love, and calls us to be God’s own. Our hearing is no longer impaired.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.