Be Opened – Br. Sean Glenn

Br. Sean Glenn

Psalm 81:8-16
Mark 7:31-37

Hearing is one of those central and recurring themes in the Bible. Jewish tradition still marks this theme’s centrality. In the round of daily prayers in the morning and evening, the ancient practice of reciting a bit of text drawn from the sixth chapter of the book Deuteronomy (6:4-5) continues across centuries and continents. We know it as the Shema. Shema Yisrael, Adonai elohainu, Adonai echod, “Hear,” or, “Listen, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Our own Episcopal strain of Anglicanism in the United States acknowledges this tradition (if you know where to look). When I was a chorister at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, the Sunday Eucharist would always include the singing of number 818 in Wonder, Love, and Praise before the Liturgy of the Word.

The centrality of this theme of hearing or listening to the people of God is at the forefront of my imagination as I hear this scene from the Gospel According to Mark. The psalm we just prayed front-loads our imagination with this theme. There are references to hearing all over the place. (Hear, O my people… O Israel, if you would but listen to me… and yet my people did not hear my voice… O, that my people would listen to me.)

The biblical imagination inextricably links listening or hearing with what it means to walk in relationship to God, joining inseparably in the way our shared traditions conceive the intimate relationship God seeks with God’s creatures. Hearing is, after all, at the very heart of the vow of obedience we brothers take as religious. The Latin root of our word obedience (oboedire, or to hear) makes this readily apparent.

And yet, while the thematic content of this scene from Mark does not surprise me, the author of Mark’s gospel employs a treatment of it that I believe helps to make clearer the ways hearing is an important facet of the spiritual life. Importantly, the way our spiritual hearing influences how we are able to speak life or death, clarity or chaos into ourselves and into the world around us.

Notice (what I find to be) the peculiar way Mark sets up this miracle of Jesus.

They brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.

Notice Mark’s hierarchy here: first we find out the man is deaf, then we hear that he has an impediment in his speech. He is neither solely deaf nor solely inarticulate, but rather inarticulate because he is deaf. The author of Mark seems to correlate directly this man’s inability to hear with the impediment in his capacity for speech.

Remember, these miracle stories invite us to see more than the isolated healing of one person far removed from us—these signs of Jesus point to something to be healed in the total fabric of our shared humanity. Think about how your own conflicts with others have arisen from failures to hear one another (and the chaotic speech that always seems to follow). Now expand that awareness to humanity’s failure to hear God. Chaos on the micro level and chaos on the macro level.

This one man’s encounter with Jesus, therefore, bears lessons for us all. Notice what happens as Jesus takes him aside, apart, privately, in an intimate encounter.

He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

Our encounters with Jesus—if we let them— will open us to hear the voice of God. I suspect you already know this without having named it. Think about those times when your own openness of heart has allowed you to hear someone fully; how this openness has allowed you to communicate plainly.

Watch for these moments with Jesus—at prayer alone and in encounters with other people. When Jesus comes to us, he opens us up. And when we let him do so, we are freed to speak God’s love plainly.


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  1. George Hoffmann on February 21, 2023 at 09:09

    Br. Sean, Sorry for the delay with my comments to your homily. After reading it, I thought about hearing and listening to God’s word and even what others say to me daily. A friend said to me recently that someone told him to get his hearing checked which he did. His hearing was fine, but the doctor told him that as you age, you cannot multitask as well. Hence, you may not hear someone when they are speaking to you. There is also a difference between hearing and listening when you actually process the words that are being communicated. I recall that when the monks chant the psalms or recite prayers, the words are deliberately slowed to ensure that their full meaning is comprehended. Merely hearing God’s word is not sufficient if you are not truly listening. Needless to say, your homily was thought provoking for me.
    George Hoffmann

  2. Marilyn Burson on February 15, 2023 at 09:45

    I love your comment of how chaos results when we fail to hear one another and when we fail to hear God. Unfortunately that is something we see every day and the results are devastating. Pray for each other and the world in chaos.

  3. Leslie Bethell on February 15, 2023 at 07:13

    This is what I needed this morning.

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