Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thank God for Differentness

"O Loving God, whose will it is that everyone should come to you and be saved: We bless your holy Name for your servants Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle whose labors with and for those who are deaf we commemorate today, and we pray that you will continually move your Church to respond in love to the needs of all people; through Jesus Christ, who opened the ears of the deaf, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

O happy day! it is a day for rejoicing and thanksgiving in my family as the Church celebrates Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Sile. You see, my husband's niece, Danielle, has been deaf since infancy. She is now a young professional woman living and teaching in Austin, Texas. She entered higher education and completed her B.A. at Gallaudet University, the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree. We are all so proud.

And we are thankful. Thankful for the insight of Gallaudet and Syle, both priests of the Episcopal Church, who understood that what was seen in their day as an obstacle to full participation in church and society was not designed by God as an obstacle but as a blessing. Syle, a protege of Gallaudet, was nearly denied admission to holy orders because of this prejudice. The late 19th century was not a friendly place to people with "disabilities" or "handicaps." Individuals that exhibited these kinds of "differentness" were thought to be less than others. It was only because of a deep spiritual conviction of people like Gallaudet and Syle that Christ lives fully in all persons that our society finally began to see differentness as "other giftedness."

Some might say that it's all about being P.C. Well, it's not. Gallaudet and Syle understood that both from their personal experience and from their zealous pursuit of the respect and dignity owed to every human being (see the Baptismal Covenant, BCP 305). Creating safe spaces for education and personal and spiritual development was their passion and their life's work. And I, for one, rejoice deeply in it and give thanks for their giftedness.

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