Some are born deaf. Others lose their hearing due to accident or illness. Still others find our hearing failing us gradually, as it is displaced by the persistent presence of that unwelcome visitor, tinnitus.
As I was pondering the slow decay of my own hearing, I recalled one of C.S. Lewis’ most brilliant insights.
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. (The Problem of Pain)
Even as I am concerned about the inevitable decline of my hearing—and more so, my vision—I try to conscientiously follow my wife’s guidance about vitamins and behaviors that will keep these senses around as long as possible.
At the same time, being a realist, I have decided to disengage my emotions from the matter as much as I am able, and simply accept the unavoidable. In fact, I have learned to enjoy some of the inaccuracies of hearing that I more and more often experience.
Hardly a day passes when I do not get a good laugh out of something I misheard. What I mean is that my brain translates the garbled sounds into actual words that constitute some sense that is in reality nonsensical. It hasn’t cause any problems yet, so I just smile or chuckle. If the mishearing is especially humorous, I sometimes share it with my family.
Recently, I smiled when my pastor went on about how great “Lutheran circuses” are, and how important it was that we invite others to attend our “Lutheran worship circuses” (services). That substitution was easy to recognize; it’s far funnier when I mishear something and what I think they said makes an odd sense that could almost be true . . . but is actually ludicrous.
I don’t share my personal way of dealing with the weakening of my sense of hearing with the intention of belittling the seriousness of a cross many have to bear as their lives are detrimentally impacted by these afflictions.
The Original Plan
Certainly, the impairment of any of the senses God has given us is cause for sadness. After all, when our first parents were created, their senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste were undiminished. That’s the way that the Lord intended for us to enjoy the rest of his creation.
Actually, some people argue that there are seven senses, adding two that do make sense:
Vestibular – the sense of balance, perceiving our body in relationship to gravity and movement (equilibrioception)
Proprioception – the sense of the relative position of different parts of the body, particularly as it pertains to movement (kinesthesia)
Another source declares there are nine senses, adding to the palette
Thermoception – the sensation of the presence or absence of heat
Nociception – “nonconscious perception of nerve or tissue damage”
I personally imagine that when “the day of the Lord” arrives, and we witness the restoration of a new heaven and a new earth, that our restored bodies* will possess a myriad of other senses we are not even capable of fathoming at this present moment.
Yes, it is a tragedy when people have to live with their senses crippled. This is especially true when it is the young who are afflicted. To be born without sight or hearing rightly seems like a curse to many. The testimony of Helen Keller, who actually lost her vision and hearing at the age of nineteen months, illustrates how the human spirit is capable of transcending even these severe limitations.**
In 1952, C.S. Lewis wrote a letter to a young teacher at the Manchester Royal School for the Deaf.
The work you are engaged in is a magnificent one (much in my mind because, as it falls out, I’ve just been reading Helen Keller’s book): hard, no doubt, but you can never be attacked by the suspicion that it is not worth doing. There are jolly few professions of which we can say that.
The translation of great stories into a limited vocabulary will, incidentally, be a wonderful discipline: you will learn a lot about thought and language in general before you are done. I hope you will sometimes let me know how you get on. God bless you.
In writing this column I learned something of which I had been unaware. Keller was also a poet.
And, while I’m a poor judge of verse, I found my brief exploration of hers to be moving. However, here is a review from The New York Times which declares, “Modern psychology cannot account for Miss Keller nor explain the psychic sense by which she apprehends the minutest phases of a beauty she has never witnessed.”
You can download a copy of the book The Song of the Stone Wall, here.
Across the meadow, by the ancient pines,
Where I, the child of life that lived that spring,
Drink in the fragrances of the young year,
The field-wall meets one grimly squared and straight
Beyond it rise the old tombs, gray and restful,
And the upright slates record the generations.
Stiffly aslant before the northern blasts.
Like the steadfast, angular beliefs
Of those whom they commemorate, the head-stones stand,
Cemented deep with moss and invisible roots.
The rude inscriptions charged with faith and love,
Graceless as Death himself, yet sweet as Death,
Are half erased by the impartial storms.
As children lisping words which move to laughter
Are themselves poems of unconscious melody,
So the old gravestones with their crabbed muse
Are beautiful for their halting words of faith,
Their groping love that had no gift of song.
But all the broken tragedy of life
And all the yearning mystery of death
Are celebrated in sweet epitaphs of vines and violets.
Helen Keller’s life is a witness to the fact that God can intervene in our brokenness and make us whole. It is also a foretaste of that complete restoration that awaits disciples of Jesus on the Last Day.
And one more thing her life proves is the truth of C.S. Lewis’ insight that in our suffering we become more attuned to our need, and God “shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The image at the top of the page shows Helen Keller as she looked on the day of her graduation from college.
** Helen Keller found hope in the good news of Jesus Christ, albeit through the extremely peculiar teachings of the philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. Helen Keller’s book My Religion is available for free download here.