unexpected opportunity

I had the amazing and slightly terrifying privilege of being the interpreter for the church service I attended today. I go to the church across the road from my college campus and watch the interpreters in the service every chance I get.

This morning I arrived confident and planning to have a conversation with the deaf man who sits next to me in the front row. All went well until the service started and the two chairs up front were empty.

Although last week there had been only one interpreter, this week neither one came. So I turned to the man next to me and signed, “do you want me to try signing,” and he agreed. So I went up and sat in the interpreters’ place and did the best I could for the rest of the service.

I was certainly far from being a qualified interpreter. I didn’t know a lot of the words to sign the service, and I was very slow trying to keep up with the pastor. Still, it was something. I apologized several times for being so slow and not very good, but the deaf man just thanked me for getting up and doing my best.

It was a very humbling but also uplifting experience. I know now how much work I will need to become a real interpreter, and this has made me aware of how hard the job will really be. But at the same time, I feel blessed to have been able to do something, no matter how small or stumbling, to show that I care and want everyone to be included in the service. I was somehow able to find the confidence to volunteer and get up front and do the best I could manage.

While this is not at all how I imagined my first interpretation, it was an amazing Sunday morning to feel God at work in what I do. If I had any doubt about the reason I have been learning ASL, that was put to rest this morning. I know that I have already been put in the right place at the right time with the right skill once. I have no doubt it will happen again. And next time, I’ll be even more prepared.

Interpreting with only six months of lessons under my belt may not be the most excellent option, but it convinced me of one thing. There is no going back. Before this, I was learning without the need to actually use everything I knew in such an important situation. Now I have just volunteered myself for the job in a sort of incredible leap of faith. I am technically an ASL interpreter now. I just need to become a good one.

I may not have exactly been ready for what happened this morning, but I had gone to church feeling confident and prepared to have a conversation with the man next to me. Little did I know how much I would need that confidence, or how much I would realize about myself and the use of the gifts God has given me.

I felt it appropriate that one of the songs in church today that I helped interpret was “Take My Life and Let it Be”. As I stated in an earlier post, this is my theme song for my work with ASL, and I couldn’t help but feel the truth of it today. When I gave this talent, gave my hands, to God, he was able to use them today because of that. I am looking forward to what he has planned for me next. Because even if it’s something unexpected like today, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

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illuminating the scriptures

The university I attend held a series of lectures this week centered around a reproduction of the modern illuminated St. John’s Bible that our campus is hosting over the 2015-16 school year.

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I was able to attend several of these events, and most of the speakers were accompanied by one of the staff interpreters.As a matter of fact, I often found myself paying more attention to the lectures through the mediated means of the interpreter’s signs than to the spoken lecture itself.

Two things I noticed particularly from these lectures were especially fascinating to see interpreted in ASL.

  • A conversation being reenacted. One of the speakers’s presentations incorporated an imagined dialogue between the Biblical characters of Eve and the tempting Serpent in the Garden of Eden. I was able to watch a demonstration of contrastive structure in action as the interpreter switched back and forth with the alternating voices. The facial markers accompanying the story also brought the narrative to life, just as much as listening to the speaker’s voice changes.
  • An interesting anecdote. During one of the presentations, a professor made reference to the original manuscript of the illuminated text, which has not been bound yet, saying that if all the pages were bound into one volume, the text would be almost three hundred pounds! He then recounted incidents of monks being killed by large old illuminated manuscripts falling from high shelves in various monasteries. The interpreter’s gestures to accompany these stories were particularly forceful and vivid, and made the anecdotes even more humorous to me.

I found an interesting analogy to the idea of illuminating scripture in the work that an interpreter does. Just as the beautiful artwork in ancient Bibles served the purpose of communicating the Word’s message to those who could not read the Latin text of the Bibles, ASL creates an image for those who cannot hear the spoken Word.

This comparison is not at all intended to equate the Deaf community with the Middle-Ages people for whom illuminations were intended, but rather to compare the two forms of art used to convey the message of the Bible to every person, no matter who they are or what their language may be.

More than just being utilitarian in explaining the text,  illuminations and American Sign Language are beautiful and unique means of communicating the ideas they represent. Neither are exact copies of the words they accompany, rather they are full, living images of the meaning of the texts. Just like poring over the gilded pages of an ancient book or basking in the multi-hued light of a stained-glass window, watching an ASL interpreter signing a Chapel message or passage of scripture gives me the sense of being in the presence of living art.sign-language-translator

The harmony of beauty and meaning that the illuminations and ASL embody is one of the fullest and most amazing ways that art can be used to proclaim God’s Word. The Bible, seen through these means, is more than a collection of words that are at least two thousand years old, often more. Brought to life by illuminations and interpretations, the stories of Scripture can be more fully appreciated as their living, relevant selves.

take my hands

I sat in the ASL interpreter’s section in church again during this Sunday’s service. There was an older man who is deaf sitting in the same row as me and I was able to communicate with him a bit, although I am still not able to read signs quickly, so most of my conversation with him was handled through one of the interpreters.

I was glad, though, that I made an attempt at least to communicate on my own, even though I quickly lost track of the conversation and needed help. I was only able to say “good morning,” but it was something, and more than I could have done a few months ago. As a matter of fact, the man I was talking to initially assumed I was a new interpreter for the service!

True conversational skills will be a long time coming, but I have made progress, and the feeling of having enough confidence to engage in a conversation is much appreciated. I may not be very fluent, but I can still show my respect for others by doing the best that I can to communicate in their language.

One of the songs sung during the service was “Take my Life and Let it Be”, and as I was signing along to the interpreter’s motions I was struck by just how much more poignant one of the lines is in the context of ASL.

“Take my hands and let them move,

at the impulse of Thy love.”

This was a touching reminder that my learning should be motivated by a desire to love others as God loves them. Sign Language is only one of many ways to show God’s love to those who may be overlooked or demeaned by society, but I feel that it is the one God has called me to pursue.

As I move into actively studying ASL on Thursday, when Spring Semester begins, I will remember this song as a personal reminder of what my end and motive should be for learning this new skill. When I remember the higher purpose of my work, that will help keep me energized even on days when I feel like I am making no progress.

I have chosen this song as my personal anthem for my life and goals, so that I will always remember Who ought to be the motivation for all that I choose to do. Truly living out the words of this song will mean that I ask myself on a daily basis, with all decisions, “Am I doing this for myself, or for God?”Applying this to all of my life, not just my ASL lessons, will make an impact on what I choose to do in my future, and hopefully in turn impact the world, if only a little, because of my following God’s purpose for my life.

 

a physical form of worship

My school offers a concentrated class during January, and I am currently taking a health and personal fitness class. One thing that the professor said to the class today struck me as being applicable to ASL as well as personal health.

The professor said that spiritual acts of worship are physical. In other words, when we worship God, we use our physical bodies to translate that worship in an audible or, in the case of ASL, a visible, way.

Although the professor’s intention was to remind the class that taking good care of one’s physical body is in itself an act of worship, I also found her statement to be a very inspirational one as I continue to learn sign language.