Out of Darkness, Into the Light

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Out of Darkness, Into the Light

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Louis desired deeply to learn, grow and accomplish meaningful goals. But he was born in the early 1800s, and he was blind. At that time in history there were few opportunities for people in his condition. Blind people were often doomed to a life of illiteracy and poverty. They frequently spent their lives begging in the streets.

But Louis was not dismayed. His thirst for education and improvement was unimpaired by his disability or other obstacles, and this resulted in great benefit for untold numbers of people. His story provides important lessons for all of us.

Early attempts to teach blind children to read

Louis Braille was born Jan. 4, 1809, in the French village of Coupvray. Due to a tragic childhood accident he became blind by age 5. At age 10 he was given the opportunity to attend the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, which was one of the first schools for blind children in the world. Pupils were taught to read by a method developed by Valentin Haüy, the school's founder.

Haüy had produced books by embossing raised letters of the alphabet onto heavy wet paper so the impressions would remain after the paper dried. However, the huge, heavy books were difficult to read since the students had to trace their fingers over large imprints of each letter. Even reading a single sentence was a lengthy process.

In 1821, Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army visited the institute to share his invention called sonography or "night writing." He thought his discovery could be of value to the blind. It was a military code of dots and dashes punched onto heavy paper designating 36 sounds. Soldiers touched the impressions with their fingers and could thus communicate among themselves during combat without the need for light or speech.

An exciting new idea generated

Although this method proved unsatisfactory for use by the students, Louis found the idea of utilizing a code to represent letters an electrifying concept. Eager to find a simple yet effective method for reading and writing, he employed Barbier's basic notion as a model in developing his own system.

Louis created unique symbols for each letter by reducing the 12 raised dots of the sonography method to a maximum of six. Most importantly, his design made it possible to identify individual letters with a single touch of a finger. This was because the characters, which represented each letter, were arranged in small rectangular blocks called cells. The number and arrangement of the tiny raised dots, which were punched onto heavy paper, distinguished one character from another.

Louis' revolutionary technique made it possible for blind people to read as swiftly and easily as sighted individuals. He completed his project in 1824 when he was just 15 years of age.

Louis Braille treasured learning

Throughout his time as a student at the institute, Louis proved to be highly talented and productive. He treasured learning and found that education gave him deep fulfillment in what otherwise might have been a bleak, fruitless existence.

After completing the school's curriculum Louis was asked to stay on as a teacher's aide. When he turned 24 in 1833, he became the first blind professor at the institute, where he taught mathematics and history. His fellow teachers and pupils admired him greatly.

Louis' irrepressible desire to learn, grow and contribute to society also extended to his love for music. He adapted his reading system for use in musical notation. He also became a highly skilled cellist and organist and played the organ in churches throughout France.

Besides his visual disability, Louis faced health-related complications throughout his lifetime. He had a persistent respiratory disorder believed to be tuberculosis. By age 40 his condition deteriorated to the point that he found it necessary to resign his teaching position. The infirmity finally claimed his life on Jan. 6, 1852. He was buried in the small cemetery in his hometown.

Braille system assists millions

On the 100th anniversary of his death in 1952, Louis' remains were moved to the Panthéon in Paris, where many French national luminaries are buried. A large public ceremony was held in his honor and attended by dignitaries from around the world. Among them was the famous blind and deaf American author Helen Keller, who remarked, "We, the blind, are as indebted to Louis Braille as mankind is to Gutenberg."

Eventually, Louis' groundbreaking reading and writing method spread around the globe and became known by his name. The Braille system made education more effective for multiple millions of blind individuals. It's available through many advanced communications methods today.

Louis hungered to learn, develop himself and serve others. His way out of the darkness of his disability was through the light of learning. He sought passionately and tirelessly to increase his knowledge and generate positive change.

A paradoxical spiritual truth

Louis Braille's story is certainly remarkable and offers us vital spiritual lessons. To understand, we must first grasp something both significant and paradoxical. Louis was among the relative few who are physically blind in a sighted world. Yet, spiritually speaking, the world at large resides in spiritual darkness while only a few have genuine spiritual vision (Matthew 13:11).

God has allowed Satan the devil to temporarily blind human beings from knowing Him and understanding His plan of salvation (Matthew 13:18-23). The apostle Paul explained this state of affairs when he wrote: "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4, emphasis added throughout).

Although the majority of people are now blind spiritually, God will ultimately give every person who has ever lived—or will live—the opportunity to know Him fully (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

An invitation to spiritual understanding

Despite the fact that God is not currently inviting all people to understand His precious truth, He is calling some. Those who respond through repentance and obedience are chosen for a special relationship with Jesus Christ as His brothers and sisters in His Church (Matthew 22:14).

How spectacular is the gift of His calling? "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10).

While God gives to a few the opportunity to know and follow Him, we still need to grasp another important biblical reality. It is that even those God has called out of spiritual blindness do not yet have complete spiritual vision.

The apostle Paul wrote: "For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God" (1 Corinthians 13:12, The Voice).

Zealous to grow spiritually

Since we do not yet have full divine comprehension, we need to ask ourselves a crucial question: Do we intensely desire to increase our knowledge of God as much as or more than Louis Braille yearned to understand his physical world? Are we zealously motivated to develop ourselves spiritually, no matter what our age, health or other circumstances? (See Colossians 1:10.)

The apostle Paul expressed it well when he said we should be "casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

The phrase "every thought" indicates we must be utterly dedicated to imitating Jesus' righteous example. Also, the apostle Peter advised brethren to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).

Avoiding spiritual perils

Drifting away from God is a particular danger in our age due to the many physical distractions we can encounter (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Additionally, trials and pressures may wear down our passion to pursue God's way of life. Considering these spiritual perils, what must we do to avoid losing our zeal? The book of Hebrews, probably written by Paul, answers by saying, "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away" (Hebrews 2:1).

Furthermore Paul wrote, "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Galatians 6:9). To avoid "losing heart" we must firmly resolve, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to stay close to God through prayer and the regular study of His Word (Luke 18:1; 2 Timothy 1:6-7).

So, are we like Louis Braille in desiring so much to learn, grow and accomplish our objectives that we will let nothing obstruct our way? Louis relentlessly drove himself to bring the bright light of learning to his mind and heart. Despite his blindness and ill health, he worked diligently to develop himself and help others. Are we willing to strongly advance our education in godly uprightness no matter what obstacles or hardships we encounter?

Into God's marvelous light

The Eternal God has given us the most spectacular gift of spiritual insight. Although we don't yet have perfect divine vision, our eyes are open to His magnificent truths and the reward of eternal life.

Will we take full advantage of God's great calling by faithfully growing in grace and knowledge and hungering and thirsting for righteousness? (See 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18; Matthew 5:6.) Will we steadfastly continue pursuing the awe-inspiring goal of the Kingdom of God? (See Matthew 6:33.) If so, we can look forward to the time when we will be awarded perfect spiritual understanding at Jesus Christ's return.

As for Louis Braille and all those who have been or are now physically blind or visually impaired, the time is coming when God will not only heal them physically but will give them true spiritual vision (Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5). That superb future is one we can all eagerly anticipate. So let those of us who have been invited to follow God do so zealously and steadfastly. For, in the words of 1 Peter 2:9, He has called us "out of darkness into His marvelous light"!