As we get older we expect our hearing to diminish – and the experts tell us it starts happening earlier than we think. When I was teaching high school students, cell phones got smaller and more convenient for students to bring into the classroom and one would occasionally go off in class. As schools started framing policies that didn’t allow them in the classroom, one of the ways that students got around this was to set the ring-tone to a very high-pitched sound that literally can’t be heard by those over 28. Since most high school teachers were over 28, the students could secretly text and communicate with each other without the teacher knowing.
If you stop to think about it, speaking and hearing are critical for our learning, communicating and enjoyment of the world. Most of us take it for granted. We use our voice to soothe and comfort a fussy baby, cry sounds of alarm when danger is present and to speak words of love, caring and compassion, or of outrage and injustice. The spoken word is powerful, and made even more so by our tone and inflection. Being able to hear music, laughter, nature and loved ones greatly enriches our lives.
Now stop and think what it would be like to not hear – ever. How would you be able to communicate? How could you speak if you’d never heard how a word is pronounced? How would you know if you were even saying it correctly if you couldn’t hear yourself say it? How could you express and get others to understand what you need or want? How could you learn, especially the more complicated concepts that are not easy to demonstrate visually through the use of gestures? Today, thank God, we have hearing aids and cochlear implants that help many of the deaf to hear. We’ve also developed sign-language, but it is not a language that everyone knows. Most of the deaf are also taught to read lips, and so with this ability and their hearing aids, others oftentimes do not initially realize that they are deaf. Take off the hearing aid or cochlear and they go back to total silence – they can’t even hear themselves! Watch the video below to see the reaction of one young woman who was born deaf and is hearing with the aid of a cochlear implant:
These weren’t available in Jesus’ day, and so the plight of the deaf was one of misery and solitude. In the gospel of Mark, the author relays the story of people who bring a deaf man to Jesus and request his healing. Jesus performs a physical ritual and heals the man (Mark 7: 32-35). We take so many of these Gospel stories for granted because Jesus healed so many different ailments, but in reality, they were extraordinary! With all of our scientific knowledge, surgeries and pills, we cannot cure the deaf; we can only give them technical advancements that assist or bypass the natural deficiency. Jesus HEALED and CURED. This was not lost on the Jews who were expecting the Messiah, who in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing.” (Is 35: 5-6) The crowd’s response echoes their understanding that Jesus’ actions have made God’s kingdom present – the kingdom that the Messiah was to usher in. You and I know that Jesus is the Messiah – but the Jews of Jesus’ day were trying to figure Him out. His miracles proved WHO He is.
If you’ve ever known and loved someone who is deaf, you know the heartache that comes with the diagnosis. You know the depths that you go to to help this child live in a hearing world. The challenges are immense and the extra work and expenses that are involved are worth it if it helps this child live a more normal life.
Physical realities often point to spiritual realities as well. While physical deafness is a challenge and heartache for the individuals and families it affects, the greater threat to our eternal destiny is spiritual deafness. The conditions of our physical life make it much harder to “hear” God speaking to us and so we must use the devices that help us to hear Him and develop what I like to call “the ears of our hearts.” Children seem to have a natural affinity for the spiritual, but if spirituality is not encouraged and nurtured, then we go spiritually deaf. In our culture, this seems to happen at a fairly early age because we get caught up in wanting the “things” of this world – the next new toy, fashion, popularity and being like others and accepted by them.
In order to truly hear God in our lives, we all must “put on the ears of our hearts” in the same way that a deaf person puts on their “ears” – their hearing aid or cochlear implant receptor. The devices that help us hear God are the Scriptures, attending Mass and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, Church documents and papal encyclicals, stories of the lives of the saints, reading about spiritual matters (whether in books or blogs; I personally like http://www.newadvent.org for the collection of blogs they link to) and prayer. Prayer itself is powerful, but it cannot be a monologue. When we pray, we need to also be silent and listen for the urgings and promptings of the Holy Spirit. We need to be open to His direction and the truths He is unveiling.
For we Christians, the fruit of our spiritual hearing is demonstrated in how we live out our faith. Since our life’s ultimate goal is to go to heaven, are we living the lives of love that Jesus is calling us to, or are we only concerned with ourselves, our families, our wealth or lack of it, or our place in this world? Are we spending a fair amount of time in prayer so that we can hear where the Holy Spirit is leading us? Do we respond with our time, our talent and our treasure to the needs of the community around us? If we can’t “hear” the Holy Spirit and we don’t learn the lessons of the Gospel, we will find that being spiritually deaf also leads to misery and solitude – in this life and the next.
Remember you life is a gift to be used for the glory of God!