Recently, I made the acquaintance of a man whom I shall call Philosopher. He is a quiet gentleman with an understanding laugh and years of experience softened by a great compassion. Best of all, he knows the art of the well-asked question–which, as many of you may know, is often far better than the most exhaustive answer.
Now, some of those well-asked questions concern my life. Philosopher is the only one who can get away with many of them–questions about how I handle criticism and whether I might be a more contented, less anxious person if I took life less seriously and found a way to distract myself in the face of difficulty. Questions, in fact, about whether I am happy in general. Few people would ask these questions, and fewer still could get away with it if they did, but Philosopher always does. In fact, I’ve come to welcome the self-examination these sorts of questions provoke.
Until Monday. After positing his usual series of queries, Philosopher remarked, “I’d like you to really consider this for a few days… To what extent does not having sight affect your personality and the way you perceive society and your place in it?”
In hindsight, I am so very, very glad he asked me to think this over for a few days–though I was not grateful for that opportunity at first. When he asked this, I wanted to immediately give him my classic I’m-not-Joni-Eareckson, are-you-defined-by-your-shoelaces, personality-is-never-sensory-dependent, pursue-this-no-further rant. Those of you who know me well understand exactly what I’m talking about. As the hours in which to practice delivering that speech have ticked by, however, I’ve been reminded of a better way. For one thing, a rant is not terribly intellectual–and it’s boring. For another, is not a positive reply much more edifying, loving, and glorifying to God than a negative one? Perhaps this is a time to demonstrate, to clarify through analogies and illustrations.
A few rules, and a bit of background: For this exercise, I will attempt to keep negation to a minimum–more “will” and “would” than “isn’t” and “am not”. Any negative phrasing was intentional in accenting my point. Also, you should probably know where I’m coming from as I write this. I believe in the active, continuing power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, including healing. That said, I believe for a healing of both blindness and the Protein C deficiency that caused it, in His timing. I’ve waited for many years, and I’m willing to wait for many more. How long did Abraham wait before begetting Isaac? How long did Simeon wait before the promises of the Holy Spirit came to pass in his life? So, I will be patient and wait on the Lord’s timing, will, and ways. Unless the Lord convicts me to do so, though, I will not tell Philosopher of this. As I write this, I will focus on what I “will do” when I “am healed”. If this makes you uncomfortable–and I understand that continuationist teaching is controversial–or if you wish to imagine what I will actually be telling Philosopher, envision all verbs in the conditional tense–what I “would” do if I “could” suddenly see.
Here, then, is my answer to Philosopher. I will revise it for spoken communication, but writing the ideas may help define them in my own mind–and, I trust, may be an intriguing journey for my readers to embark upon.
At present, blueberry tastes like promise–like rising early in the morning for a moment of mountaintop praise, like rarified glory and purest joy.
Then, when the Lord heals me, I’m quite sure the principle will apply to the color blue. To all colors, in fact. If corduroy presently calls to mind “Father, I Adore You” and velvet sounds like many voices in unison, imagine what colors will do for my heart! Will I forever associate the color of a certain church pew’s seat cushion with “King of Love”?
At present, I listen to a live worship song until I hear one man, woman, or child obscured by other congregational voices. That individual is often so anointed that s/he causes the rest of the worshipers to fade into the background as I listen to the song, that new and beautiful song sung only and ever unto the Lord.
Then, I will watch old live worship DVDs and videos. As cameras zoom in on dancing worshipers, hands raised before the Lord, I will catch glimpses of those hands. They won’t be full-on analyses by any means, but they will be enough–strong, sturdy men’s hands, not fully raised but enough to let you know he wishes he were a little bolder in worship, hands that support a family of four, hands that belong to a man who is always contemplating other hands, nail-pierced ones. hands of women, some frail and pleading, others with long, perfectly-manicured, brightly-colored fingernails that suggest a life very different from the worship service they are attending–but with a softening of fingers that make one believe that there is a softening of heart as well. Hands of teenagers surreptitiously tucking cell phones into pockets, hands of children reaching out to trust. Hands of old and young, grasping for answers and surrendering questions, strong and weak, but all of these hands reaching for the hand of our Heavenly Father. I will not see all of these hands captured on film, not like I can now listen to a single worshiper in a congregation of thousands–but I will see some hands, some eyes, some faces and clothes and postures, and will piece together stories of these servants of God and their lives.
At present, I feel that there is much more value in a small, shabby travel blanket we purchased two years ago than in the $85 genuine Toyo blanket I purchased in 2009, plush and rose-adorned though the latter blanket is.
Then, I will see a woman wearing expensive gemstones and say that her apparel is gaudy, but will attach deepest sentimental value to costume jewelry.
At present, I see comma splices in others’ writing, resolve that I will never commit said grammatical faux pas, and continue with my day.
Then, I will be exposed to glaring slogans on everything from coffee mugs to toy Frisbees, billboards to words at the bottoms of television screens. I will resolve not to use the colloquialisms I see… and then I will move on with my day in the firm knowledge that Ready Writer, Bethesda Lily, the Grammatic Fanatic, will be swayed by neither the sight nor the sound nor the printed nor the Brailled syntactical misdemeanor.
At present, musical accompaniment in audiobooks is too reminiscent of narrative interpretation and does not allow readers to think for themselves. I avoid said music, as well as multi-voicing, at all costs.
Then, I will see onscreen garments and old chalets and cups of hot chocolate, gestures and facial expressions and posture, good acting and good set design in movies or plays, as the visual equivalent. ‘Twill be back to a leather-bound classic for me!
At present, I read the Bible voraciously–be it Braille versions, audio renderings, or the copy of the Scriptures that has been engraved upon my heart for the past eleven-and-a-half years. I compare Scripture with Scripture, linking pearls as it were (see Lois Tverberg, SITTING AT THE FEET OF RABBI JESUS). It may take time to cross-reference, but I love this Bread of Life far too much to allow myself to go hungry. When the Lord uses a passage to speak to my heart, I either write about it or place it in the audio journal.
Then, I will not only cross-reference using what I know, but use the references provided in print Bibles that are never present in other editions. I will underline and highlight voraciously. I will still love the Bread of Life too much to allow myself to go hungry–pant like a deer for the waters too much to spurn the rivers of living water provided in those pages. When the Lord uses a passage to speak to my heart, I will take notes in my beautiful Revised Standard Version.
At present, I use a digital voice recorder to make extensive journal entries. These may range from thirty seconds to an hour and a half in length, and every one of them currently finds a place on my iPod.
“Then,” you say, “then, you will write in a journal–a beautifully-bound journal to match your ornate thoughts.” Ah, but you would be mistaken, Dearest Reader, Kind Philosopher, or whoever you may be who are reading this. The purpose for the audio journal is that I can’t keep a regular journal without obsessing over every metaphor, every possible redundancy, each and every semicolon or colon or comma. That is no way to pour out your heart before the Lord! I will practice writing–beautiful, calligraphic cursive of the sort most people no longer know how to write–in a delicate, beautifully-bound journal, but I will not douse pages with a seeking, searching blend of ink and tears.
At present, I use that same recorder to catalogue every detail of daily life. I have been known to record chapters of the Word, excerpts from Christian books, magazine articles, a story about Hannah’s day at work, off-key songs, a pastor’s sermon that came out so poorly that it can scarcely be heard, an entire church breaking Communion wafers together as they prepared to partake, the coffee machine at a guide-dog training center, set upon set of chimes, the creaking of the porch swing, the rice cooker, tea kettle, and coffee maker, memos about when to see my doctor for the sole purpose of capturing an “audio image” of my doctor’s voice, the sound of typing, the loudspeaker at the grocery store, conversations during a medical infusion, a musical Christmas carousel decoration, Hannah’s computer-game skills, the unceremonious unearthing and unpacking of boxes… Are you breathless and exhausted yet? My one regret: I did not know enough in high-school to record the ringing of the bell announcing the beginning of classes.
Then, I will keep all of those recordings–but I will branch out. My new “toy”, the camcorder, will zoom in on our lives with the same minute detail. One of these days, I will devote an entire filming session to all the clocks in the house. Another will display every Christian banner, placard, or picture we have ever hung. Slow, careful pictures of the kitchen, of the less-than-perfect garden, of our vehicles, of a rickety fence, and even of not-so-pleasant things like peeling paint. Why? Not to capitalize on something depressing, but because healing will be such a precious gift that even things that aren’t particularly beautiful will seem so. I will capture Naomi cooking, Naomi sewing, Naomi with hands clasped around the laptop she uses to reach out to people in need of spiritual encouragement. Jedidiah on a ladder, Jedidiah reading his Bible–though not posed!–Jedidiah with a look of consternation on his face when he discovers that someone ate his last piece of German chocolate cake. Hannah at work, serving others, Hannah with her face alight with laughter, Hannah sitting on the sofa with a look of utter repose on her face after a long day. The rest of you just scrapbook; my means are audio scrapbooking and will ultimately become video scrapbooking.
At present, I use Bookshare, the Talking Book Library, and my trusty flatbed scanner to read memoirs–and nothing but memoirs! I take life so seriously that I can’t really find any lasting distractions. For me, the term “vedge out” is both grammatically skewed and foreign to my way of life.
Then, I will use my newly, joyously-restored retinas to read memoirs–and probably nothing but memoirs! When I am healed, “vedge out” will mean “to take vegetables from the refrigerator and make oneself a nutritious, sentimentally-oriented, God-glorifying sandwich”. The seriousness that characterized the previous sentence will remain intact–and I won’t have it any other way.
At present, I listen to others’ voices until I feel I have them quite figured out. Naomi sounds like Rita Baloche as the latter sings “Jesus, You Are”, but also like Joy Chan narrating WITH CHRIST IN THE SCHOOL OF PRAYER for Librivox. Infusion Nurse, who happens to be a very quiet Christian, has a voice that fairly sings with the joy she is trying to contain. Good Samaritan lives her life by books and rules, and her calm, steady, confident voice shows it. Holy Hands sounds exactly like what Elizabeth (Luke 1) would have sounded like had she lived in our time and spoken English–such praise in both of them! Some people, though, reveal secret brokenness with their tones, accents, semantics, pich, speed, and timbre. I know a sister in Christ who structured her face so that everyone believed she was happy, but there was such weariness in her heart that I kept hearing her voice crack–not breaking, as in tears, but groaning with the weight of the pain she bore. I have heard a brother in Christ enumerate the things he was doing in life, stacking detail upon encouraging detail, but I have wondered whether he might be feeling the weight of “too much”.
Then, I will have one more venue for this sort of analysis–one more means of seeing the love, joy, and peace, and conversely, the sorrow, fear, and weariness, in others’ hearts. I will use this to pray for the people whose facial expressions will not be hidden by muscle contractions that look to others like big smiles. A smile will be a smile, and it will be beautiful, but something that tries so hard to be a smile when it isn’t will register as such, and I will pray accordingly. On the same note:
At present, I pay no attention to the television because I find most programming either unintellectual or unedifying. So many sounds, telling so many unrealistic stories. When I do hear characters’ dialogue, I drive Naomi and Company crazy with comments like, “That woman’s inflections don’t match the situation. The man she is speaking with has perfect inflections, but–oh, my!–he is hurting so much. What’s that actor’s name? Let’s pray for him…”
Then, I will pay little attention to the television–see above. I will probably look away from it whenever possible, find something else to engage my mind, fill my vision with red letters on onion-skin paper. When I do look at the television, I will not see the story–no backdrop, no cluttered desk as part of an elaborate set, no action, no gestures. I will probably look beneath costumes, makeup, hairstyles, and props and continue driving Jedidiah and Company crazy by saying, “I wonder if all that makeup is covering up a very, very hard life for that poor woman. And is she supposed to be that thin? What is her name? Let us pray for her…”
At present, I hold out my heart to people as I tell them about Jesus.
Then, I will look into their eyes as I do it!
At present, I tend to be woefully lacking in the departments of diplomacy and political correctness. If asked a question, I answer it as honestly as I know how. It has been a difficult process, but I have learned because I feel it’s right. Besides, it allows for a freedom in the Lord that I would never willingly relinquish.
Then, I will use gestures as well as words to convey my points–lofty, sometimes whimsical, not-always-diplomatic, honest, spontaneous gestures!
At present, I ask nurses, lab technicians, and other professionals to enumerate every step of a procedure as they are doing it. “Most people don’t look, even though they can see the procedure–even if they do have a choice.” But…
Then, I will look! Very likely, with the barrier of Protein C deficiency being removed, I won’t have so many medical procedures to contend with, but for any routine test, I know myself–I will watch the professionals. I’ll need to know what’s going on, won’t I?
At present, I use Roman numerals when Arabic numerals are considered more acceptable, insist on British dates, and use an uppercase E when writing the word “E-mail”. Oh, and there’s that little matter of punctuation marks going outside of quotation marks rather than burrowing down inside.
Then, I will add unconventional fonts, footnotes, elaborate colour schemes, intriguing caesuras, and spacing eccentricities to my list of writing quirks.
At present, I feel that wearing dresses, maintaining long hair, and refraining from dyes and makeup are Biblical practices. My opinion only–I don’t necessarily expect anyone to agree with it.
Then… Well, those principles, and the verses on which I base them, won’t have changed, will they?
At present, I believe that all material that proclaims the Gospel should somehow be distributed for free. Naive? Perhaps. Biblical? I think so…
Then, I will have the pen and ink, the printers and skills, and the transportation, to leave Christian writings–for free!–in coffee shops. Unconventional? Perhaps. Thought-provoking? Maybe so…
At present, I deal with overstimulating circumstances by grasping onto one thought and using one sense to temporarily narrow my world for the five seconds it takes to calm any feelings of being overwhelmed. Think on peppermint resembling hyssop, and clutch the steaming cup of tea, allowing myself to focus only on the heated pressure of that cup and the intricate weave of the cozy that envelops it–oh, yes, and also on hyssop.
Even then, it may still be necessary to fight anxiety–unless the Lord, in His infinite power and grace, heals that along with the rest of me. He is able! But, should there ever come a moment after that glorious healing when I need to narrow my world, I’ll have one more sense with which to do it. Hold in my gaze the painting of rugged mountains, marvel at God’s majesty even as expressed through artwork, and contemplate the life of the artist in the five seconds it takes…
At present, one of my favorite hymns I “Open My Eyes That I May See”, especially the third and fourth lines in each verse.
Then, I have no idea what hymns and worship songs will speak to my heart–how can we know the future? Perhaps, though… PERHAPS, a favorite will be “Your Voice”, from the Vineyard album YOU ARE IN CONTROL. I know I love it now, and I will likely love it then. “Open My Eyes”, in heart and spirit, AT PRESENT; “Your Voice” is my joy and delight, THEN and always.
At present, and then, I have and will be serious, unconventional, quirky, a lover of music and of beauty, and wholeheartedly devoted to my Savior.
At present, I love Jesus.
Then, I will love Jesus.