What can I help you with?

June 30, 2017


If your favourite device enables you to ask Siri for assistance you probably enjoy the pleasant sound of her voice. Your voice-activated ‘virtual’ assistant is Karen Jacobsen—a real person. In your car Karen’s GPS reassuring voice may announce, “You have reached your destination”.

Karen, a Queenslander, now resides in New York where her career as a speaker and author has flourished. In an interview with Sunrise’s David Koch she mentioned some reactions when people discover she is the face behind the voice. One person apologised for shouting at her, while others treated Karen as if she were a good friend. But any doubts as to Siri’s identity were totally dispelled when she appeared on stage at Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight and the TV audience got to meet her—well virtually anyway!

That term virtual assistant invites consideration. Literally, it means there is potential help available. It’s as if a real assistant is on hand to get involved. In reality we know such a person does not actually exist; it’s just very clever but impersonal technology at work. We all feel the need of someone with whom an actual relationship is possible. Christians believe God is that someone, a helper and companion.  

We know Siri is not really there when she speaks to us. In fact, her sentences have all been constructed by digital technology not even Siri could explain. Karen told Kochie that she spent countless hours recording long lists of words from which the virtual assistant soundtrack is constructed. She was limited to four hours recording each day so that her voice would always sound fresh, relaxed and warm.   

Most of us have experienced moments when in conver­sation with another we have sensed we were not being listened to and certainly not understood. That clumsy look at their watch or the fiddling fingers on the mobile phone declared a lack of interest that our companion failed to mask. Not surprisingly, the line of dialogue from Kath and Kim—“Look at moy”—resonated with many viewers. To be fully present with another human being is a rare and beautiful gift of oneself. It is a gift that does not always require spoken words. 

When another person values us enough to invite our opinion and share our ideas we sense their acceptance and are likely to trust and respect them in return. That’s what happened one day about 2,000 years ago by a well in the Middle East at a place the Bible calls Samaria. There Jesus met a woman who had no friends. He sensed her loneliness and feelings of rejection and resentment. Instead of offering help, Jesus asked her to provide him a drink of cool water in that hot place. Her life was transformed by this traveller whose compelling presence, rather than simply his words, seemed to be asking, “How may I help you?”   

Self-reliance may cause us to react negatively to an offer of help. We reckon we can go it alone and don’t want to be obliged to another because there might be some unexpected consequences. Safety first may be our approach and could even be justified by previous nasty experiences. But reaching out to God for help and companionship is never risky, even if it might feel unfamiliar and a little scary to begin with. Why not give it a try? You have nothing to lose except the need that causes you to long to hear the words “How may I help you?” and, even better, “You have reached your destination.”


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Vol. 139, No. 14 // 11 April 2020

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