Hearing with the Heart
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“Hearing with the Heart,” New Era, May 2013, 24–27

Hearing with the Heart

Deaf students in seminary understand that the still, small voice speaks to them the same way it speaks to anyone else.

young men using sign language

President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, teaches, “The voice of the Spirit is a still, small voice—a voice that is felt rather than heard.”1 Deaf students participating in ASL (American Sign Language) seminary are familiar with that feeling.

“Sometimes when I feel the Spirit, it’s like chills going up my spine,” says Bryce J., 16, of Utah. “Other times a thought will come into my mind, a thought I know didn’t come from me. And often I will just feel a calm, peaceful reassurance.”

“We know that Heavenly Father looks upon our hearts,” says Rachel E., 16, from Illinois. “It’s through the Holy Ghost that we can feel in our hearts what is true.”

Students All Over

Bryce and Rachel are just two of a dozen ASL seminary students from around the United States. They are able to use videophones (similar to web cameras) that have recently become available at no cost for the Deaf2 community. And because the Church conferencing system allows several videophones to connect at the same time, since 2011 Deaf students have had another way to participate in seminary besides home study or arranging for an interpreter to come to a hearing class.

ASL seminary originates in a classroom-turned-broadcast center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the teacher, Nathan Van De Graaff, and up to nine students watching at home can see each other and interact through a grid of images on a screen. Because the grid restricts the number of participants, class sizes are limited, but several classes are held so that all can participate. Students log in from Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. They participate in lively discussions and receive assignments that require them to collaborate.

deaf seminary on screen

Blessed by Seminary

Deaf students receive many blessings through ASL seminary. Some find it is more convenient. “I enjoyed attending regular seminary. I loved it from day one,” Bryce says. “But I had to travel from one side of the city to the other to get to a seminary with an interpreter and then travel back across town to the school for the Deaf.” That was time-consuming and complicated.

Others say ASL seminary helps overcome isolation. “Many Deaf youth think they are the only Deaf LDS members in the world,” Brother Van De Graaff explains. “They are thrilled when they can study the gospel with others who understand their experiences and who speak the same language they do.”

At the school for the Deaf an hour from his home, Mackenzie M., 16, of Idaho, is one of only a couple of LDS students. In his ward, when he is with other LDS teens, he is the only Deaf person. But in ASL seminary he can be in a positive, uplifting environment with teens who are LDS and Deaf.

“In ASL seminary,” Mackenzie says, “I can sign and not be the only one signing. Even though I can’t shake hands or be in the same room with other students, I can see them, and I can communicate by myself. And because I have to share spiritual thoughts, memorize scriptures, and learn the gospel, seminary helps to strengthen my testimony.”

Setth S., 16, from Florida, explains that although everyone in his family is Deaf, they attend a hearing ward. “I like the people and they are nice to me, but I don’t always understand enough of what’s going on,” he says. “But when I add ASL seminary, I get the best of both worlds. Seminary helps me understand better so that I can learn the gospel and strengthen my testimony.”

Following the Spirit

Bryce tells how learning about the Holy Ghost in seminary helped him when he was on a Scouting trip.

“We were about to come home,” he says. “Three or four of the boys had asked if they could take a short walk but hadn’t returned. We had been waiting for them for half an hour. I felt the Holy Ghost telling me what to do, so I told my leaders, ‘I think I know where to go.’ The Scouts were lost and waiting, and we went straight to them.”

Because his seminary class had often discussed the importance of following the Spirit, Bryce felt confident about sharing his promptings. The other Scouts are glad he did.

Itzel G., 14, from Utah, says she recognizes the Holy Ghost because “my heart feels more full. I feel like smiling and I feel more love toward other people.” And she says that when she studies the scriptures in seminary, “My heart is understanding through the Spirit what the scriptures want me to know, that the people in the scriptures went through the same things we are going through, and that the scriptures are written for our benefit.”

That is the kind of language all seminary students can trust, whether they are Deaf or hearing. It is the language of the Spirit, and it carries to their hearts a witness of what is true.


  1. Boyd K. Packer, “The Cloven Tongues of Fire,” Ensign, May 2000, 8.

  2. The word Deaf is capitalized here because many in the Deaf community prefer to identify it as a cultural or linguistic group rather than just a description of a disability.

Photographs by Richard M. Romney and courtesy of the students’ families; background by iStockphoto/Thinkstock