Saturday, December 14, 2013

Soul Stirrings

We often see only what we expect to see: familiar routines can restrict the flow of creative juices and obstruct our vision of even the most ordinary sights. Sometimes a step back and a pause can help us see better.

Leaving a doorway I have exited countless time in the last 32 years, I stood squarely and raised my phone to record the picture in the aperture of my camera.  I had never realized the Victorian house that has stood on this corner since 1889 fit cozily within the frame of open doors. I stopped long enough to pause and take a closer look. It only cost a few moments. How often I need to do that in the course of an ordinary day: pause, refocus and see things from a fresh perspective.

Taking time to see rightly may take just that: time.

I take a lesson in seeing rightly from one the world said is blind. 

They took away what should have been my eyes

(But I remembered Milton's Paradise).

They took away what should have been my ears,

(Beethoven came and wiped away my tears).

They took away what should have been my tongue,

(But I had talked with God when I was young).

He would not let them take away my soul -

Possessing that, I still possess the whole.

-Helen Keller

Helen Keller writes of losing her sight and hearing using the phrase "they took away." Such an immense loss at only 19 months of age must have been utterly confusing for little Helen and her parents. She spent the next four years blind, deaf, and unable to speak and was said to be half-wild. 

Can we imagine the trauma this family experienced? There were no social supports or schools in the late 1880's to offer help for them.

But a miracle worker emerged who relentlessly and passionately gave herself to the child, defying all odds, to teach language and communication to Helen through her fingertips. 

The breakthrough moment arrived with the pumping of w-a-t-e-r splashing onto Helen Keller's outstretched hand. Anne Sullivan stayed with her through childhood, adolescence, even through college at Radcliffe where Helen graduated cum laude in 1904 with Anne interpreting all lectures and class discussions.

Helen later traveled the world lecturing in 25 countries and bringing hope to millions of blind and deaf people.

Though we may marvel that one person could do so much, we quickly remember that it was not one, but at least two--two passionate, dedicated people who would not let no be an obstacle.

Upon re-reading her lines above days later, I am struck by something new that was not apparent initially. She refers to her lost senses not as "my sight" or "my speech", but as "what should have been my sight." Do we catch the difference? 

For all appearances, she had lost each one, but her declaration is that in entrusting her soul to God, she still possessed the whole. 

The essence of Helen Keller was intact.

How beautiful.

We may have the sense of sight and be able to hear ambient sound, yet many of us are still living in darkness.

We see, but have no vision. 

We hear, but do not listen. 

We tune out a call for self-denial and resist the whisper of a still, small voice.

May we consider the weight of this strong Southern woman's words over 100 years later as a point for thought when we are tempted to complain of all that we do not have. May we remember that there is unbridled beauty in even the most bleak circumstance if we look beyond our limitations. 

And how do we define our limitations? How do we set the boundary of what we cannot do? What would we do if we were not afraid of failing?

Let us not have our limitations define us. What a reminder her words present in a human example: think back to what we know first! If Helen Keller can find joy and power and inspiration and vision summed up in her brief words above, surely we can take courage and face our day with renewed grace and power from God's Presence.

Sometimes those who do not have a crisis looming or a huge, identifiable loss are the very ones living in the darkness.

We can become so acclimated to low-light conditions and low-level living that we are unaware that we move through our days with self-imposed limitations and unexamined minds. May light and truth penetrate our hearts as God 'draws in our palms' the message of unconditional love....of living w-a-t-e-r...and awakens our souls to live with the mighty power God provides.

At this season of Advent and in the midst of retail flurry where I am engaged daily in the course of business, I need that pause that refreshes. I need a counterweight to offset the press of the marketplace tipping the scale out of balance in my life.

So I offer words of a call to worship this week:

Come once more, with eager longing, to receive the promises of God.
Out of the desert places of our lives, we gather with joy and gladness. 
Our God has promised that lonely places and deserts will be glad and blossom as the rose.
 The Lord has promised that the blind with be able to see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.
Our God, who made heaven and earth and all that is in them, keeps faith forever God sets the prisoners free and brings healing to all who seek him.
 The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down and watches over strangers. The Lord upholds the orphan and the widow. Our  God executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. 
Come once more with eager longing and bless the holy name of our God.

(Some portions reprinted from previous post on the subject.)
Photo of Galloway House.  Dating to 1889, this beautiful home was built for Bishop Charles Betts Galloway, an internationally known preacher of the Methodist faith and longtime head of the Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church, which is located across the street. Author of many books on religion, history and temperance, Galloway was a secular celebrity for many years and his sermons were said to be legendary. This two-story frame Victorian was constructed in the Second Empire style. The building was renovated in 1983 and now houses the offices of several lawyers.