How do you learn to make a sound, like a letter from the alphabet? You hear it, perhaps repeatedly, until you try to make the sound yourself, practicing it until you’ve mastered it. Through our education, sounds turn to words which turn to ideas and knowledge. Each level of complexity is built on the same foundation of the skill to listen.
This past Sunday’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37) illustrates the importance on listening. A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to Jesus. The man cannot communicate properly because he cannot listen; all he hears is silence. It is only after Jesus not just touches him, but prays over him in the command, “Be opened” that he is healed. The literal understanding is the removal of whatever is blocking the man from hearing. But what if the blocker is not a physical problem, but a spiritual one? What if the man chose to walk away from a relationship with God? The command to be open to what God has for him can be very challenging! It’s a challenge we face many times through our lives, when we plan out our future, only to find a curve or fork in the road that we don’t think belongs there.
In reflecting on this gospel, I find the detail of the speech impediment an important clue in the situation. This man was not born deaf, otherwise he would be characterized as mute. Rather this man can speak, but it’s impaired. To me, that means the deafness was a result of an event after he learned to speak. His inability to hear, to listen, affected how he was speaking. The Church in her wisdom each week gives us the opportunity to listen to God through the Liturgy of the Word. We cannot be effective communicators of the message of Jesus unless we learn to listen to Him first. If we are closed to His Word, then we will not be able to speak clearly of Christ.
In our relationship with God, it can be easy to talk all the time, either to fill the silence or so that there is an immediate response. God, indeed, talks to us, but often in ways and at times that are of His making and not ours. We need to always be open to hear His response. We need to be constantly listening for Him. And in the times when we fail, closing ourselves off to Him, all is not lost. He can heal us, just like He did the man in the gospel. We just need to turn to Him and be opened.