Sometimes I think God must be poking me. On Sunday I declared Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel reading (Matt. 13) “Let Those Who Have Ears Listen!” On Wednesday, I have a raging ear infection and cannot hear out of my left ear. Doctor pronounced it “supremely yucky” and gave me a bunch of medicine, so I hope to feel better soon. I am thinking about hearing a lot today.
Mother Nature plays a cruel joke on us old married farts. Men tend to lose the upper ranges of their hearing first. Women tend to lose the lower ranges of hearing first. Jim’s voice is rich and resonant and very, very bass. I am sound asleep if he talks softly for ten minutes. As we get older, our hearing becomes more selective. Yet, I can discern the sound of his cough or the blowing of his nose three grocery aisles away.
We have ears, they just don’t hear so well Jesus. Ear infections aside, we live in a noisy world. The sound of an ordinary fan is enough to disrupt my hearing as well as my attention. Even the sound that reaches me is hard to hear if I’m not paying careful attention to it. I’ve learned to block out so many sounds, and not only what I don’t want to hear.
Silence speaks to me with greater profundity as I get older. As a young thing, I tried to keep silence washed over with the sounds of the television, music, whatever I could find. I cherish times of silence when I read, write, or draw. I especially cherish silence in worship. It’s not the fussy baby or the crinkly papers or the coughing neighbor that disturb me in worship. What bothers me is the relentless activity without pause, punctuated by glances at the nearest clock or watch. It is dizzying to me to spin from the youth group’s wienie roast and ice cream social announcement to “Let us confess our sins in the presence of….” The rich irony is that we need silence and pause in order to hear. Jesus tells those of us with ears to listen, not get busy.
“Let those with ears…” Jesus admonishes. What about those who do not have ears? What about those whose hearing is blunted at one end of the register or the other? What about those who cannot bear even a moment of silence to listen to their lives? What about those who live and work in constant din, like my father working at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft for years and years? What about those who have learned to shut out certain sounds or lose their minds or souls? How about the staff at the nursing home who care for Eulalia, who in her dementia cries and hollers all day long and accuses them of hurting her or ignoring her?
I learned something when I breastfed my children. We hear with more than our ears. The milk rushed to fill my breasts in the middle of the night before my ears could register the infant cries from the next room. I hear with my eyes too, noticing subtle cues and reading lips to fill me in. Seeing adds to my understanding when my ears can’t make sense of what I’m hearing. (Or when what I’m hearing is such unintelligible nonsense.) When anger wells up inside as I watch Israelis and Hamas shoot it out over the heads of children, I know that my heart hears too. When I see the news of children –children as young or younger
than my daughter–gathered at our borders, my whole body aches. We hear with all that we are. We hear with our whole lives, just as our whole lives are contributing causes to our deafness and inability to hear what Jesus is saying.
I look forward to hearing again. I know this deafness and pain is treatable. I don’t know about those other hearing losses.