I have the privilege of being the grandparent of an incredible granddaughter, Shannon, who is deaf, and her husband, Brent, who is also incredible and deaf. And the richness of their lives and the deaf community we have met through them have changed our lives entirely.

Anyone who has watched the deaf using their mind, spirit, and body to speak – anyone who has seen their expressive faces – have been privileged to see language come to life in ways that are life-changing. It is as if the body becomes an anchoring for the words that hands and faces are speaking.

When Shannon was very young, my husband and I joined a grandparent’s signing class to learn how to communicate with our granddaughter along with several other grandparents. Not surprising, we found that the fluency of our deaf grandchildren’s speech was an unattainable skill for most of us.  We stumbled from word to word, trying to make our hands match the pictures we saw in our texts.  And we soon learned this was going to be a lot harder than it looked in the natural fluency of our grandchildren.

But the rewards of working hard to learn meant we could communicate more with Shannon and her friends. In trying to learn their language, we demonstrated how important they were in our lives. It was a gift for everyone.

Last year, I decided to take that signing skill and use it as a way to pray with mind, spirit, and body in a small group setting. It would be a silent prayer, powerfully rooted in the body, so that our whole being could become involved in the wonder of shared prayer.

It was not difficult to find a dozen people who were interested in learning how to pray in sign language. Our goals were simple and attainable. Not expecting fluency, we learned a few basic signs to begin our adventure in signing prayers. As we moved toward making this an experience of signed prayers, people became deeply concentrated on bringing their whole being to the task we had undertaken. We were separated by the boundaries of our bodies. But in our hearts, we were praying with a new kind of intentionality that brought us somehow closer to God and each other.

When we signed the words, “Dear God” to initiate our prayers, the signs were breathtaking. The gesture to sign the word, “Dear” crossed our arms over our heart as if we were holding God in that space. The sign for “God” was the movement of our open right hand reaching out into the space in front of us, moving upward and coming down in a moment of affirmation, connection, and blessing. Suddenly we were in a new relationship with God and each other.

In the deaf community, their hands fly with the ease and familiarity of their language. In our stumbling way to engage in this new kind of prayer, we had to let the words enter our bodies to be in touch with God. But this allowed us to concentrate on each word.  Before we could even begin our prayers, we were already deeply in connection through the simplicity of two words: “Dear God”.

In the silence of this experience, we discovered the power of adoration and love. “Dear God” was enough to connect us to God.  And once connected with body, mind, and spirit, our prayers were always directed toward others and not ourselves.

In the simplest of language, we prayed with our whole being: “Dear God. I am praying for __(name)___________. “And it was sufficient.