A Common Language
“Who sent you to sit with me?” she scribbled on a scrap piece of paper. She slid the paper across the table to me where I was eating the meal prepared that evening at the homeless shelter. I smiled, and wrote, “No one sent me. I just sat here because the seat was open. But I’m glad to be sitting with you. My name is Lauryn.”
This unplanned interaction was the beginning of my work with an elderly guest, who also happens to be deaf. The last few weeks of working with her have turned out to be quite challenging, in spite of her strong motivation to make progress and my attempts to connect her with the resources she needs. The struggle all centers around communication. I don’t speak her language. I speak English, yes, but not American Sign Language. The extent of my signing knowledge is limited to the the lyrics of Jesus Loves Me and a few words I used with my children before they could speak. (If my new friend wanted to talk about crackers, milk, or her mama, I’d be good to go! But her needs go a little beyond that.) So, we write messages back and forth on slips of paper and use body language to communicate as best we can. How helpful it would be if I could just learn ASL! But learning a new language takes time, a lot of effort, possibly money, and a shift in the way my brain processes information. I have to decide - is it worth it?
The answer is, "Yes!" It is always worth learning to speak in a way another person can understand.
Beyond working to improve our literal verbal skills (mainly in Spanish), our family is continually learning how to communicate with the people of Boston. We have become immersed in a society that in many ways is significantly different than any Joe or I have experienced before. We practice a lot of listening and observing. Jesus demonstrated for us the importance of living among people, speaking their language, and engaging in their culture. He spoke of spiritual concepts using physical imagery. He used metaphors and common terms that would have been familiar to those He was interacting with. We desire to do the same here in Boston. Our goal is to know our community well--and be known by them--so that we can share in the Life of Christ together. And yes, just like learning an actual language, it is taking time, effort, money, and a shift in the ways our brains process information.
Last week was Pentecost and the celebration of the beginning of The Church. On that morning centuries ago, the Holy Spirit gave unsuspecting disciples of Jesus the sudden ability to speak in ways that a diverse crowd would understand. This miracle gave the opportunity for many to hear the message in the languages and dialects of the various regions represented. On the one hand, we might say this supernatural event was about languages. But I would say that the miracle was about understanding one another.
Every day we have the opportunity to help another understand God's love for them. Many times this requires first learning to understand them and to learn their "language." We pray that the Holy Spirit will be present with us as we go about our daily lives interacting with people in our neighborhood, at work, at school, in transit, and in our activities to do just that. We trust God, just as it occurred on Pentecost, that we might speak familiar words and that the Spirit will open the ears of those we engage with so that they receive the Love of God in ways they need and understand.
And I do pray that my new friend and I can communicate more fluently. By the way, before we parted ways after that first encounter, she smiled and held her hand over her heart when I was able to sign "Jesus loves you" to her. Thank you, Vacation Bible School!