On my way to a recent storytelling event in Tipperary I stopped to give a lift to a young hitch-hiker. He climbed into the car gratefully and I asked where he was going. He replied by making a letter T with his fingers – he was traveling to Thurles like me. Apparently he was deaf. I thought this would limit conversation. However, as we wended our way through the peat bogs he told me with gestures that the road was very bad and that the council was due to repair it. Then he took out a train timetable and indicated that he was going to the station. He pointed out all the places he had been to and made it clear that he was a keen traveler. When I dropped him at the station he clasped my hand as if we were life-long friends and took his leave.
This encounter shone like a light through my whole day. It helped me in my task of telling stories to children as young as four and older ones of twelve. I noticed that in the classes there were one or two children with learning difficulties. There was a little boy of five or six who sat beside me and played with a wooden car. But I was aware that he was listening intently. I felt warmed by his listening. It had a special quality – it seemed to embrace the whole class. This happened in another group as well. Although these children had been designated as ‘special needs’ or ‘learning difficulties’ they were gifted with a listening ear and their warmth had a special meaning for the classes they were in.
There’s hearing and there’s listening. There’s speaking and there’s communicating. Essentially these things happen on another level. They convey warmth and experience. They carry the consciousness of whole groups as well as individuals.
Recently I’ve been struggling with statements I’ve read to the effect that ‘language is inadequate to convey spiritual experience’. I’ve heard this from two highly-esteemed sources, both spiritual teachers. As someone who lives in the beauty of language I find these statements unconvincing. Surely it would be more accurate to say, ‘ I find it difficult to convey spiritual experience in words, with language’. If I think of my deaf friend overcoming obstacles cheerfully, or the two children with learning difficulties creating an aura of listening through warmth, then I would go back to those spiritual teachers and say, ‘Think again’.
This is partly a Whitsun message. The truest language of all is available to everyone – and in this respect we all have special needs. It’s possible to draw closer to the original spiritual language – or to renew it – through our quality of communication and our depth of listening. I don’t believe there is any experience in the world which is beyond words. Perhaps at its highest level language has to be enflamed with ‘tongues of fire’ but language itself is never inadequate – only the communicator.
Buds in May
There is an end of pavements still to come
and a time when every shoe-tired greyness
will yield to golden pathways on the earth.
We’ll talk a language then which all must know,
a speech which holds for every living thing.
Its words, which have light in their unfolding,
will be like buds in May, pleased to appear.
Let no one say this language cannot reach
to the very edge of our creating,
where stone is trimmed with stone in ancient style.
And beyond, to where green remembers green
from times before its heart crept into bud.
Best wishes, today,
Picture: Rock of Cashel, Co Tipperary (author unknown)
©Jay Landar 2013. All rights reserved
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