Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear! On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! Zephaniah 3:14-18
An American author, political activist, and lecturer, Helen Keller faced what many would call unsurmountable difficulties. When she was just 19 months old, a fever caused her to become both deaf and blind. She was blessed to have parents who sought help for her. Based on the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, Helen’s parents hired a tutor for her, a young woman named Anne Sullivan who was partially blind herself. So, at 7, Helen began to learn.
Now, in many stories about Helen Keller, the real hardship of being deaf-blind is often glossed over. Fears, difficulties, recognition of troubles everywhere, and the decision to become politically active somehow grow dim. Such an unrealistic view of Helen Keller is not what we need in times of trouble. We need to know that someone with great faith took action to make the world better for others.
Israel had suffered many years of hardship before the coming of Christ, but they needed prophets who, at great cost to themselves, pointed the way to salvation and gave hope in the midst of discouragement. Prophets had nothing in this world to gain. They lived by faith. They may have had fear, but they did not give in to it. They may have been discouraged but knew days ahead would be better. They pushed ahead, believing. Helen did this as well. In fact, she spent her life working for better conditions for all.
Helen worked to get her education, graduating from Radcliffe College in 1904 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She had never seen earth and sky but had imagined their immense beauty. At the same time, she came to know the world of ideas, and by 1908 had become politically active. She said, “I must face unflinchingly a world of fact – a world of misery, degradation, blindness, sin, a world struggling against the elements, against the unknown, against itself… My darkness had been filled with the light of intelligence, and behold the outer day-lit world was stumbling and groping in social blindness.” By 1916, she told the New York Times: “…I realized that the wonder is not that conditions are so bad, but that humanity has advanced so far in spite of them. And now I am in the fight to change things. I may be a dreamer, but dreamers are necessary to make facts!”
Helen often used Biblical passages to remind others who heard her lectures that faith alone can be a mockery. Without action to help “the least,” faith is useless. Like Joan of Arc, she said she heard a voice within her that she had to follow. So, we have no misfortune to fear, for God is in our midst. Let us be glad and exult with all our hearts!
Helen Keller is our twenty-third Ornament of Grace.
Observing the Beautiful Ornaments
How do you, like Helen Keller, try to change systems in society that are causing harm to others?
How do greed and indifference play a role in the growing social concerns of our time?