My foray into service learning has reaped tremendous rewards. I’ve been exposed to the power of intention behind words.
St. Francis said, “Teach the gospels and if necessary use words”. Francis knew the power of action to speak louder than words. My sense is that the intention behind the action makes all the difference.
I’ve been visiting United Cerebral Palsy with my students. The mental capacities of clients there range from brilliant to low functioning capacity and no communication at all. Some of the clients there are nonverbal and need assistance with physical movement and use their wheelchairs to speak or other electronic devices to help them.
I was introduced to a female Middle Eastern client and was told by the teacher that she only speaks in Arabic. I’ve learned a few words from my Syrian refugee friends, so I thought I would speak it with her. I viewed this as an opportunity to teach my students an Arabic prayer and greeting. The young woman viewed it as a deep connection to her land and national identity.
She was beyond excited hearing a few words she understood. Her eyes lit up like a child opening a gift and her ecstatic state compelled her to bounce up and down in glee at the connection through language. She hugged me and was so excited that the teacher needed to calm her down.
Not too many people speak that language around there. I’ve seen her there before but didn’t know her story. Last week we were baking, and she was dancing to a music video all by herself. Joy touched her heart and she let out a gleeful expression of gratitude for the song.
This day she kept telling me “Amore, amore, amore”. My Syrian friend says this means “cute”. She was pointing at my students and me telling us we were cute. We had no idea what she was saying nor did the teacher. We didn’t need words, as her expression spoke loudly for us.
It was the most important moment in my day. It was a pure moment of joy as we exchanged greetings with one another. My students were taken aback by it and their eyes were wide open like they’d just seen a magic trick.
My sense is that it wasn’t the words themselves that brought joy to this woman. The words were a mere vehicle for the intention behind them and the expression of love from which they were delivered.
Later we worked at a school for hearing impaired and deaf children. The barrier to communication was clear, but it wasn’t the one thing that stood in our way. It was our open heartedness that resulted from serving at the food pantry. Once again, limited communication stood in the way, but our intention to connect rose above our verbal disconnect. We shared the common language of giving which opened us up to more in the way of expressing joy in life. It also opened our line of understanding one another in a fresh and unique way.
“If I speak of human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a banging gong or clashing cymbal.” Yes, I get that. My heart was open. Those people I encountered had open hearts to receive, and we met in the middle through words.
Aligning ourselves with Godly intention is the work of life all together. Some strive to be good and holy, and with that comes the power of intention to correct wrongs without words. “The spirit goes before us to make the crooked places straight”.
A holy presence can bring light of understanding and heal by the sure will of love. Henri Nouwen, theologian and scholar learned this when he went to Jean Vanier’s “Daybreak Community” to live with people who have physical and mental challenges. Nouwen learned the purest expression of love without words through the actions of those he served.
They taught him more than any scholar or book can utter in its profundity. Sometimes the lessons in life speak louder than words. We see, hear and believe through the power of intention. We understand through our ability to comprehend a silent expression of love.
Our willingness to delve deeper into the power of love can set us up for the day. Our daily tasks should include the nourishment of love in our hearts and our love for others. It’s the food of our spiritual being. It is also a reminder of the three “Cs” – communion, connection and care.