Washing our hands can be the work of the Holy Spirit

In a guest blog today, Helen Stewart remembers how a simple act of washing her hands prompted the voice of the Holy Spirit within her to reflect on the importance of communication. 

Helen Stewart is a friend who lives in Forkhill, County Armagh,  with her husband Shane and their two teenagers, Adam and Hannah and a myriad of pets.  Helen works in Health and Social Care and is senior support worker, supporting adults with a range of learning disabilities.  Helen is also one of the Called and Gifted teachers in the Archdiocese of Armagh. Helen says…

The best job when I was at primary school was to get picked to go to the library van and select the books for the class to borrow for the coming month.  On one such occasion when I had been chosen I remember finding a book about Helen Keller.  This book enthralled 10 year old me simply because we shared the same first name.  It evoked that same strange feeling of connection when you meet someone with the same name as you and you speak their name, which is your name, out loud.

Helen’s life captivated me.  She lost her sight and hearing as an infant in the late 1880’s. When Helen was six a young teacher named Anne Sullivan was employed by Helen’s family to try to ‘socialise’ her.  This was not without struggle.  During one lesson, Anne put Helen’s hand under running water and finger spelled the word W A T E R on Helen’s hand.  Helen understood.  In that moment a bridge of understanding and connection had been made.  This image has remained with me since.

I am passionate about how we communicate with each other.  I’m privileged to work with adults with a range of disabilities and communication needs.  Thirty years on from that joyful trip to the library van I have found myself thinking more frequently about Anne and Helen. 

Recently as I washed my hands the water suddenly ran too hot for me and the pain reminded me how communication is linked to all of our senses, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch and how the loss or heightening of any one of our senses makes such a difference to how we understand others and how others understand us.   

I saw this frustration up close on one occasion when I was assisting a person who had a neurological condition to complete a task. Each time we tried to do this task the person would tense. Her muscles would tighten and the tremors she suffered with would become more pronounced.  She could hear, she could see, she could taste and she could smell, but she could not speak. 

One day, though, when I was with her, a whisper tickled my ear and I heard the words, ‘just sing.’  So I did.  I sang, “In Dublin’s fair city…” and calmness descended on her body. As we locked eyes she smiled and miraculously started to sing with me.  Her brain unlocked a door to release those words in song.  We had learned how best to communicate for her needs in that moment.   

So too is it with many others I have worked with through the years, I have seen the frustrations of not being able to communicate within the societal norms bring frustration, violence, sadness and pain.  But I have also seen many transformational moments of communication when I truly believe a soul connection was made.

I have no doubt that God can understand me in any given moment in all of the various ways I use to communicate with Him, even when I ignore Him. But do I take the time to use all of my senses to pay attention to how God is trying to communicate with me in return?  Sometimes the sensory experience of God communicating with me is beautifully tangible.  Like when I heard that whisper to sing.  And when there is a communication block I don’t worry  because at some point I must wash my hands and as the water flows God will call me back to Him  by making me think about Helen and Anne.   

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