Hearing without Language

A stroke patient whom I nursed years ago, couldn’t speak clearly. I felt her frustration in trying to make her wishes known to the busy staff; she’d been a nurse herself.

Every time she needed help, I’d listen carefully, run a guess or two past my brain, and watch her face as she struggled to say what her mind was messaging. Eventually I could almost ‘know’ her desires in a moment. When I was on duty, the other nurses didn’t try to decipher what this dear lady was endeavouring to convey – they came looking for me! When I wasn’t there, another nurse was called; she had a similar knack.

Perhaps it’s a gift, maybe compassion for the person who’s struggling in a world where words are so important. Do we have extra patience for that moment? Whatever the reason, that lady’s relief was manifest once either of us appeared by her bed.

I see many people like this in our church. I find myself ‘tuning-in’ to styles of English they learnt as children in countries that had been colonised by Britain. They were encouraged to speak English in their homes in Africa, for instance, but the accent was often in a dialect used by missionaries, colonial officials, or workers from some faraway village in England, who’d turned up to work in these foreign places.

Perhaps a speaker comes from Mauritius, and they have a French accent, I need to put my brain into that mode and recall my schooldays with Mademoiselle in the classroom nearly seven decades ago! If they come from the Pacific Islands, I slip into still another way of listening, remembering to leave off the ‘essess’ they add at the end of singular words. And some nations have no ‘s’ sound in their mother tongue!

In various immigration waves over my lifetime, I’ve met Asians, Indians, Chinese, Dutch, Italians, Greeks and more. Each had their unique word-emphasis-pattern. I try to listen for that system. A broad Aussie accent can even bring subtle challenges.

Communication in my childhood was nothing compared to nowadays in our church! Add old-age-hearing to the mix, music playing in the background, plus different body language, and we end up with some interesting answers to questions! How patient these people are with us! I feel for them. But if I were to go to their land, and try to speak their language, I’d be lost. How thankful I am that I grew up speaking English.

As I lay awake one night, thinking of all these aspects in the life of the church, I remembered the way God listens to us. He doesn’t need to differentiate between our accents or dialects. He merely hears our cry, as he did the groaning of his people under slavery in Egypt long ago. He doesn’t even require words – he sees our hearts.

As I did with that lady in the hospital, (and still do with people we used to call ‘New Australians’), God watches what we do. He sees our behaviour… and knows what we’re trying to say. His loving Spirit replies with a creativity that we should use too. Do we listen to the amazing broadcasts he’s sending out every moment, in every language? Hear these silent words:

How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory! How plainly it shows what he has done!  Each day announces it to the following day; each night repeats it to the next.  No speech or words are used, no sound is heard;  yet their message goes out to all the world and is heard to the ends of the earth~ Psalm 19: 1-4.

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