At the age of nineteen months, Helen Adams Keller became ill. It was 1881. Doctors did not know what to call the mysterious illness that came over the little girl. They described it as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain." Perhaps it was scarlet fever or meningitis. Whatever it was, the illness ravaged Helen's little body, leaving her blind and deaf. Helen survived but she woke up alone in a world of darkness.
Helen's family did not know how to reach her. She behaved like an animal. She was fed and dressed but without the ability to communicate - without language - she was lost. She ran around the house and grounds wildly searching for food or getting into mischief. She ran roughshod over her family. No one knew how to reach her. Until a young woman was hired as her tutor: Anne Sullivan.
Anne refused to baby Helen but instead taught her to behave through consistent discipline and repetition. Anne was able to get Helen to sit at a table and eat with silverware, to act in a polite and socially acceptable manner. Helen's family was thrilled, but Anne was not satisfied. She had taught Helen how to behave but she was still not able to reach Helen's mind, for Helen still had no language. Helen was still isolated, still alone in a world of darkness.
Anne would spell words into Helen's hand, but Helen did not connect the word with the object that it represented. She would parrot back the motions of Anne's fingers, making the marks correctly in her tutor's hand. But she did not know that these motions meant something, that they pointed to objects that surrounded her. Helen was behaving like a civilized person as opposed to a wild animal but, inside her mind, she was still alone. Like a parrot or a dog, Helen could be taught behaviors through a process of punishments and rewards but she could not share her thoughts. She could not communicate.
After months, it seemed that Helen would never grasp the meaning of words, but Anne was stubborn and would not give up. She would not relent. Anne kept on trying to reach Helen's world of darkness.
One day Helen and Anne were outside in the yard. Anne was pumping water from a spigot and Helen approached to see what the activity was about. As she held her hand under the running water, Anne spelled once more into her hand, "W-A-T-E-R." Water.
From the dim recesses of Helen's mind, she recalled the first word she had learned as a toddler before her illness. "Wawa." She tried to form the sound of this one word from her memory. Reaching back into her dark consciousness, Helen remembered language. She made the connection.
Frantically, Helen began to touch objects and when Anne spelled their names into Helen's hand, she realized that these were the words that spoke of the objects themselves.
Helen would later write that her whole world was born that day. She had lived in total darkness and isolation until that moment. At that moment, as the water poured over her hand, the Word came and dwelt among her, bridging the divide between her and her tutor. The Word made the connection that gave her life meaning, that brought her into community, that enabled her to express who she was and to hear the voices of others. The Word brought her from an animal existence into the human race. It was light. It was life.
That is what Jesus is for us. The one who makes the connection between the Maker of the Universe and our tiny insignificant minds. We needed someone to spell it out for us. We needed God to make it simple, form the syllables into our wet hands as we reached out to understand. As the waters of baptism poured over us, Jesus reached out and made the connection. Jesus Christ is our Word, our bridge to the mystery of God. Without Jesus, we could never understand. We were in total darkness.
Once we realize that Christ is the Word, we begin to awaken to the many ways that God reaches out to us, to help us so that we are not alone. Whenever you truly communicate with another human being, whenever you love someone entirely and you are able for a brief moment to express that love, God is there. God is the third one, the connection, the only way that we ever reach one another. God is the word which makes us known to one another. Without God, we would cease to exist. All would be darkness. All would be lost.
When God said, "Let there be Light," God spoke us into being. God sang or danced or expressed us into existence. We are God's communication, God's joy, God's dance.
Francis Collins, the famous geneticist, in his book The Language of God, says that God spoke us into being with our genome. God wrote us, you and me, with the language of our genes and, as the psalmist says, "knit us together in our mother's womb." God wrote you as a form of communication to the world. You too are part of that Word of God that never ceases to speak, that bridges between the light and the darkness. You are the world spelled into the palm of the world by a God who wanted you here for a reason.
In this unprecedented time of pandemic, humans have had to isolate themselves more than ever before. It is wise to spend time alone, it is necessary for the safety of others and so that we don't spread the virus. But the danger is that our isolation leads to darkness. Suicide rates are skyrocketing. Alcoholism and addiction are rampant. Particularly, the elderly have chosen to stay at home, sometimes for months at a time, completely alone. And the darkness descends.
But the Word is finding new ways to reach out, online and by video. We are building connections all the time, ways to reach one another so that we are not alone.
One of the greatest joys I have had in this time is to form prayer groups over Zoom. God bless my assistant who has had the patience of Job while tutoring 80-year-olds in Zoom. They ask the same questions over and over and they get so frustrated, but with the perseverance of Annie Sullivan, my assistant finds a way to reach these folks so that they then can reach each other. When their faces pop up on the screen and they see their friends and share their days and pray, I find many of them cry. There is such joy in making the connection.
So long as we humans have breath, we will try to make that connection and the Logos will live in us. It is part of who we are. We have Christ within us, the part of us that longs to reach another with a word of truth, of comfort, of light.
The Word of God dwells among us, even in the darkest of times. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.