God’s Sign language!
The story below ‘God’s sign language’ is one of the many stories from the book ‘God’s Sign language’. The book is currently published in Dutch. We hope to also publish it in English if we receive financial support for this.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard. Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.
(Bible – Revised Standard Version, Psalm 19:1-4)
‘This will be a sign unto you: You will find a baby […]’ ‘So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger’. (Luke’s Gospel 2:12/16)
What eventually made me stay in Beirut was the Arabic Sign language, the language of the Deaf(*) that I learned there. Fascinating, flowing, open and honest, dynamic and expressive, humorous and rich! I had learned some languages already, but this was new!… A friend (The Rev. Andeweg from Voorburg, the Netherlands) whom I met in Jerusalem invited me to come and help him in the Clubhouses for the Deaf in Beirut.
The language of the Deaf: According to a convention that is universally recognized, in all references to members of the Deaf communities who ‘speak’ Sign language and identify themselves with Deaf culture, ‘Deaf’ is written with a capital letter ‘D’. An audiological fact or deaf as an adjective outside this definition is written with a small letter ‘d’.
From my hometown in Holland I knew about clubs and I was keen to get involved in something like this. I had only heard about Deaf people but reasoned that they would be just like everybody else and that this should not pose any problems. Besides, here was a marvellous opportunity to get to know the Arab world from a different perspective. I was happy to accept.
The Father Andeweg Institute for the Deaf
The thing that stood out when I first entered the Beirut institute’s school gates was the language. Hands that were busily engaged in movements, faces that had a lively and expressive mimicry, little sounds … Sign language! Within five minutes I was sold! This I wanted to learn! Additionally, the written and spoken versions of the Arabic language form one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. I thought by myself that Sign language might at least be a little easier.
How fortunate that there is this language of Signs, otherwise Deaf people would really be stuck. Especially when there are so few opportunities to get a decent education and to learn to read and write. Sign language, the language of Signs, truly is a wonderful gift from God.
Often I have tried to imagine the disappointment of the Almighty when he sees his world – our world. He bends over the edge and observes the mess that mankind is making of things. He sees the wars and the hunger caused by people. He sees the terrible pollution of the earth – His creation – His garden. And then He looks again and searches for people who read His word, the words He had his prophets speak and His servants write and compile in His Book. Sadly enough they are few and far between. And the majority of those who do read just don’t seem to understand what they are reading. Even the angels and the archangels, the cherubim and the seraphim don’t have a solution… And then He has this wonderful idea.
God’s Sign language
What if people could SEE in a Language of Signs, would they understand better? And once more the Almighty starts to reveal himself, but this time in a language of Signs, in the language of those who may be deaf but certainly aren’t dumb. As unborn children in the mother’s womb the Deaf learn to recognise the physical condition of the mother, as though they feel the same thing and experience it in the same way – Happy, sad, tired, enthusiastic, exhausted… Later, when they are being nursed while sitting on their mother’s lap, they learn to interpret the mother’s mimicry and body language – Tense, relaxed, angry, glad, singing, cussing. A thousand impressions need to be interpreted and responded to. Indeed, signs or images and physical expressions have tremendously rich potential to reveal a world around them that slowly gains in meaning.
But to be able to do this one needs to be deaf, because most people are in fact too lazy to invest the necessary energy. To ‘speak’ the sign language might actually work, but to ‘read’ this very unique language when you have not been immersed in it from birth is always more difficult. That is why Deaf people or Children Of Deaf Adults (CODAs**) are always better able to read and interpret Sign language. In fact it remains God’s unique and wonderful gift to the world of the Deaf, but they also carry a guardians’ responsibility.
A language of Signs and Wonders
We now ought to read our Bibles from the very beginning and search for the signs.
The first thing is two trees: the tree of Life and the tree of Knowledge, together with a fruit and a snake as signs of deceit and of disobedience. The sacrifice of a lamb and the other of the produce of a garden launch the concept of jealousy and murder. Angels with swords keep closed the gates of paradise. Mankind is told that they will work and toil by the sweat of their brows, while carrying and giving birth to a child will be a very painful business.
On this journey we meet Moses in the desert at the burning bush that doesn’t turn into ashes, and listen to God’s voice. We wonder about his miraculous shepherd’s crook and follow a pillar of cloud by day and at night a column of fire. We see the copper snake on a stake as a sign of healing, still the symbol of a doctor’s practise. We remember Joshua with his trumpets and cymbals at the battle of Jericho. We meet Elijah on his way to heaven in a fiery chariot and Elisha who splits the river Jordan to cross it dry-foot, like Moses, Joshua and Elijah did before him. Elisha hastens after his servant Gehazi who took Elisha’s staff to raise a small boy from the dead. Famously we think of the small jug that would not stop pouring forth the oil. There is David, the Lord’s anointed, who beats the giant Goliath and makes him shorter by one foot, sorry – actually one head. We imagine the prophet Isaiah on his visit to King Hezekiah when he lengthens the day by turning back the sun. We ought to read about the prophets whose lives and works are absolutely bursting with signs and wonders and the astounding works of God…
The signs of baptism and new life
And at last the times come for the Almighty to make his voice to be heard and the heavens to open, and for him to give them yet more signs and tell mankind how much he loves them.
That he returned because he longed after them after the angels refused them entry into the garden. That he Almighty and merciful God again wishes to come among his people, not as a threat but vulnerable, helpless, as a baby, the ultimate sign of God’s love. As is written in the gospel – the good news – of Luke: ‘This will be the sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’
A dove tells us of the Spirit of God coming down, and confirming water and baptism as the signs (sacrament) of a new covenant and a new man. Afterwards there was the sign of the wedding (another sacrament) where Jesus replenished the wine and saved the day; and can we forget the people who were healed and how Jesus multiplies the five loaves of bread and two fish, or the resurrection of dead Lazarus?
‘I will be with you’.
We end with the sign of the Lord Jesus himself, God’s beloved, who will no more forsake us but be with us until the end. The penultimate word of God’s Sign language dictionary is a cross, a sign for the reconciliation of mankind with the Almighty, and the empty tomb for a new beginning. Jesus had the last word when he told his people to eat the bread and drink the wine, signs of his body and blood – his presence, and always remember him!
In his great mercy God translated all of this into a language that may be easier to understand. And now he is looking for Deaf people, experts in the field of Sign language, who will help hearing people with the interpretation of these wonderfully visual signs. The language of a gracious God who will carry on until, amazingly, He has found us.
Footnote: CODAs, ‘Children Of Deaf Adults’, is an internationally recognised convention.
A language of Signs and Wonders
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