A deaf man approaches Jesus in today’s Gospel from St. Mark, asking him to lay his hand on him. Jesus “put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be, opened!”) And immediately the man’s ears were opened.”
Open my ears too, Lord. Help me to hear. Help me to hear your voice. And help me to hear the voices of those around me. Help me to hear…
…the call of the homeless man I pass in the street
…the pain underneath a seemingly innocuous comment of a student or colleague
…the need of a friend for my presence
…the invitation in another’s criticism of me to grow
Say to me, as you said to the deaf man, “Ephphatha!”, so that my ears may be always opened to you and to others.
Please Lord. Open my ears. Open my eyes. Open my heart.
Finally, after my (gently and not-so-gently) suggesting that he do so for several years, my husband went to an audiologist. After 10 days or so of wearing a test pair of hearing aids, he picked up his permanent pair yesterday. He has some loss of hearing at the upper end of the register and also has a lot of trouble with background noises that interfere with his ability to hear. So, for example, we can have six people to dinner in our home and he has no difficulty participating in the conversation. But, if you put the eight of us in a restaurant, where there are a lot of competing noises, he can’t enjoy himself; it is just too difficult for him to hear what people at the table are saying with all of the background noise.
Hearing aids – which have gotten incredibly sophisticated over the year (but which are not covered by most medical insurance, including ours, but that is another story) – not only amplify sound where needed, but filter out the background noise.
As I was thinking of what a great improvement this will be for Dave, I was reminded of a line in the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass this past Sunday. The Presider said, “As many voices cry out for our attention, may we recognize your voice, saying:” and the people responded, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
God speaks to us all of the time. Not just to some people, but to all of us. Our problem is hearing him. The “many voices” that “cry out for our attention” often distract us and keep us from hearing where God is calling us, what God is calling us to. The other noises sometimes prevent us from even knowing that God is speaking to us.
We have no magic hearing aid that will filter out the “background noise.” Thus, we need to learn to filter out those noises ourselves. To know that God is always speaking and to be ever vigilent to recognize God’s voice amidst the others.
At Morning Prayer at St. Benedict’s yesterday morning, the reading was the passage in Genesis 39 in which the wife of Joseph’s master in Egypt attempt to seduce Joseph.
After repeated efforts to get Joseph to “lie with” her, she accosts him one day and grabs hold of his cloak. Leaving his cloak with her, Joseph runs away. At this, she cries out to the servants accusing Joseph of trying to seduce her, with the result the Joseph is thrown in prison.
Although in this passage we are not told whether Joseph made any protestations of his innocence – all we hear is that as a result of the wife’s accusation he is put in prison – as I listened what came crossed my mind was that any effort to defend himself would have been futile. Joseph was the slave, the lesser. The wife was in the superior position. Nothing Joseph said would have made the slightest difference.
As that thought crossed my mind, I could feel the injusice, but more, the feeling of frustration that Joseph must have felt. As I relfected on it later, I realized that Joseph’s is the frustration anyone in a marginalized, minority, or otherwise subortindate position feels when confronted with someone whose superior position (whatever the source of the superiority) allows them to run roughshod over them. More broadly, it is the frustration anyone feels when, for whatever reason, they are not being heard.
Most of us don’t run around making false accusations against others. But I suspect there are some people we listen to less carefully or less open-mindedly than we do to others. Some people we dismiss because of something about them that makes them other than us. If we can feel something of Joseph’s feeling of injustice and frustration in this incident, perhaps we can be more sensitive to those who, for one reason or another, struggle to be heard – by us and by others.
Although I sometimes pray my way methodically through a book of the Bible, sometimes I open to a page at random and pray with the passage I find. The latter approach yielded this passage from the Book of Sirach, which struck me as pretty darn good advice:
Before investigating, find no fault;
examine first, then criticize.
Before hearing, answer not,
and interrupt no one in the middle of his speech.
Dispute not about what is not your concern;
in the strife of the arrogant take no part.
Regarding the first part of the advice – we often have a tendency to react immediately to things, a tendency aggravated by the instant means of communication available to us via the internet. All, or at least most of us, are also guilty at times of accepting things we hear without investigation. So the advice to listen, investigate and examine before we respond…especially before we respond critically is important.
No less important is the advice to “dispute not what is not your concern.” This would seem pretty obvious but I know there are times when I find myself in aggravating exchanges over something, only to step back and realize the issue is of no importance to me. We can so easily get caught up in the moment that we invest enormous energy over things that really are not our concern. (Recognizing this, of course, requires a mindfulness we sometimes lack.)
Think I’ll see what other good advice the Book of Sirach has to offer.
We had a beautiful Taize service in my parish the other night. The reflection was offered by my friend Lynn, the parish’s Faith Formation Supervisor. The readings she selected to accompany the music focused on prayer and included today’s Gospel reading, the passage in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow.
Lynn told a beautiful personal story to illustrate persistence that ended with a description of God as a “persistent listener.” And I think there is a lot of truth in that. God does listen persistently, often patiently waiting for us to figure out what it is that we really are asking of God and how to ask it.
What struck me more powerfully, however, was the need for us to be persistent listeners. That is, I think the lesson we tend to take from today’s Gospel is that if we just ask over and over again, God will give us what we want. If we can just be as nagging to God as the widow was to judge in the parable, we’ll get exactly what we ask for. The problem with that way of thinking about it is that people tend to interpret it literally and then say something like, “Well I asked God over and over again to heal x from her illness and God didn’t do it.”
But if we spend all our attention focusing on our persistent requests, we can’t hear what God is telling us. We don’t notice God’s efforts to help us see what it is that we really want and the ways in which He is answering our prayers. The problem is not on God’s side – God is quite persistent and communicates constantly with us. We need to be as persistent in our listening as God is trying to communicate with us.