Monday, September 5, 2011

The Word

            My Sunday School class is starting a study in the book of John.  The Gospel of John begins by describing Christ as “the Word.”  It’s fascinating how a scripture that I’ve known since I was 5 years old can suddenly have new meaning for me after so many years.

            As a child I remember memorizing the different names for Christ, and “the Word” was one more name.  Why would John emphasize Christ as “the Word?” 

            When I first began teaching students with special needs I secretly thought that if they couldn’t produce the words for an essay test, it was most likely they didn’t study for it.  The students would swear up and down that they had studied and they knew what the teacher was talking about – they just couldn’t remember the words.  I would smile and tell them we would work harder with the study guide next time.  Inside I could not fathom someone knowing something and not having the words to describe it.  If you knew it, you knew the words.

            Then middle age hit!  Suddenly I’d be talking with someone, describing something very important to me, and suddenly I couldn’t pull up a word I wanted.  Sometimes I even know the letter it starts with, but can’t think of the word.  This malady started with people’s names, but has now spread out to any word.  Everyone I know my age is fighting this new ailment.  We have the thoughts.  I can even picture them in my head.  But for the life of me, sometimes I can’t remember the word I want. 

            The condition is called aphasia, and it doesn’t just happen to old people.  The daughter of a dear friend of mine developed AVI - arteriovenous malformation.  In a nutshell it’s when blood vessels in your brain go crazy and grow all sorts of extra clusters between veins and arteries.  Doctors must first “glue off” the extra vessels and then remove them in surgery.  During the treatment for Katherine, the “glue” got loose and cut off a part of the brain it wasn’t supposed to.  It left her with aphasia – an inability to call up words for communication.  Katherine is still there.  She has all the thoughts and feelings we have, and she works hard to communicate them – but without words.

            So what?  Katherine’s husband and parents know what she is communicating.  My students insist they know the material.  What does it matter if we can’t pull the words up? 

            It does matter if we are going to clearly communicate to someone else.  Katherine can communicate, but she would be the first to tell you how hard it is, and how much people who are not close to her are missing.  Words are what we have.  We can’t be Mr. Spock and place our hands on someone else’s head and telecommunicate the idea to them.  Words are the way we communicate.

            I am still amazed when I teach early reading, how complex the human brain is and how we truly must be “wired” for words.  Kids learn to read so quickly.  Because I work with students who often have learning disabilities, I must break down the process of teaching reading into all its smaller parts to figure out what part of “reading” is not clicking for a student.   As you are reading this entry, your brain is carrying out a process where it is simultaneously doing an astonishing number of things.  And that brain process is something a 4 or 5 year old’s brain can figure out sometimes with no formal training.  These children put the process together sitting in their mom’s lap, watching and listening to an ABC book being read.  Our brains really are wired for words.

            Why did John, Jesus’ closest friend on earth, refer to Christ as the Word?  Christ communicates to us who God is in a way we can understand.  Jesus is God’s word to us about everything God wants us to know of Him.

            “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14

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