Imagine a world without sound and the frustration of trying to express what you feel or need to others. Hearing is very important. Of all the five senses, our hearing is perhaps the most precious. If we lose it, we lose contact with the people we love and the world around us. Consider all the sounds that surround you every single day: a child laughing, a bird singing, a friend chatting, or a great song on the radio – it is this symphony of sounds that makes life richer. When you hear a loved one say I love you, it is different from reading it.
Hearing is an easy thing to take for granted. Occasionally we might miss a few words, but in general we move around effortlessly in everyday life, talking to one another, chatting over the phone or listening to the TV, without paying it a second thought.
Hearing empowers us and enriches our lives. Hearing enables us to socialise, work, interact, communicate and even relax. Good hearing also helps to keep us safe, warning us of potential danger or alerting us to someone else’s distress.
Hearing is essential for us to be able to live and participate in life more fully. Problems with our hearing may lead to feelings of isolation and even depression. Our hearing provides us with an enormous source of information, some of it obvious and some we barely notice but when combined, this information forms the bridge between the world and how we interact with it. Hearing helps us lead our everyday lives without limitations.
Things are not nearly as easy with a hearing loss. When hearing loss occurs, a simple thing like following a conversation in a boardroom meeting or hearing the doorbell or telephone can become a real issue. You may start to experience all sorts of emotions – from worry to sadness and loneliness. You may also feel tired and irritable from having to concentrate just to hear what people are saying. Left unattended, hearing loss can ultimately lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
I was just partially deaf for two days, but the impact it has left on me will live forever. I now consider deafness differently. My life changed temporarily in a split second. For two good days, I could not hear completely in one ear. The other ear came on and off. I remembered Enid and I missed her so much. I knew for sure what God meant when He said it is not good for a man to be alone. I called her on her trip and could only wish she was right next to me. I was left in that state with the girls alone to do all that we normally do. Unfortunately this time, I could only do a little and I felt frustrated. The doctor quarantined me from air travel for two weeks till I am completely healed. But whatever the cause of deafness, being unable to hear is a traumatic experience.
It is this experience that led me to read the biography of Helen Keller. She went on to acquire an excellent education and to become an important influence on the treatment of the blind and deaf. Born physically normal in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing at the age of nineteen months to an illness now believed to have been scarlet fever. The International NGO Helen Keller is named after her.
Helen Keller once said, “I have always thought it would be a blessing if each person could be blind and deaf for a few days during his early adult life. Darkness would make him appreciate sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound.” I can also not agree more with Honore de Balzac’s quote, “A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.” I experienced all this in a twinkling of an eye. I also appreciate that Helen Keller also noted that, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it”.
For that reason my hymn of choice today is a thanks giving hymn called Now Thank We All Our God.
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
The story behind this hymn is one of my favorite hymn stories. Let me just say just a little bit about the author and the composer of this hymn.
Now Thank We All Our God, is a wonderful, wonderful hymn, and was written by Martin Rinkart, who was born in 1586 and died in 1649. He was a Lutheran deacon and composer. Martin Rinkart left us a beautiful testament to faith and thanksgiving. Some details about his life and times shed new light on this familiar hymn:
German pastor Martin Rinkart served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine. At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one abandoned his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkhart officiated at the funerals of the other two.
As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day–some 4,480 in all. In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services.
The war in Germany that took place 1620 to 1648 or somewhere in there, roughly took about Thirty Years War. It is one of the horrendous periods in European history. Largely, if you think of Germany today, that’s really where the war took place. It’s confusing as to who was on which side: the French Catholic king was on the Protestant side because he was eager to overthrow the Hapsburg dynasty. It’s all very complicated, but for our purposes it was just horrendous in terms of the loss of life, in terms of starvation, the cruelty…. War is always cruel, but The Thirty Years War was a very cruel war, and there are some dreadful statistics of thousands of people in certain towns being decimated. Some of the famous cities of Germany that we think of — Brandenburg and so on — lost upwards of forty or fifty percent of their population during The Thirty Years War, including Martin Rinkart’s wife. She died of starvation and disease. Towns would be surrounded, they’d be starved…disease would spread and so on…plague….
And just like the Puritans during the plague in a later period, slightly later period in the 1660’s in London, the Puritan ministers stayed in the city when all the other ministers left the city. Rinkart stayed and ministered to the people. It was a horrendous time, and some think — although there’s no evidence — that this hymn had been composed in its final form in the peace treaty that ended… the Peace of Westphalia, I think it was called, that ended The Thirty Years War. So “Now Thank We All Our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices….” And there’s an air of tremendous gratitude to God through what was an enormously difficult period in his life and the life of his country.
When Rinkart was ministering in the city of Eilenburg they were actually surrounded and besieged by the Swedish army, and starvation was rife. And it is said that eventually one by one the pastors in the city died, leaving Rinkart as the only pastor. I’ve read sources that said towards the end of the time of the siege–and I think he was actually used to help lift the siege…I think he was actually sent out by the leaders of the city to meet with the Swedes, who respected him in their negotiations–but it is said that towards the end of the siege he was doing fifty funerals a day. It’s hard to conceive of what it would have been like in a situation like that.
Yet, while living in a world dominated by death, Rinkart wrote this timeless prayer of thanksgiving for his children:
Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms, Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.