They brought to Jesus a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 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. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” Mark 7:32-37
As I read about Jesus taking the deaf man aside in private, I hear an invitation to practice silence and solitude. I imagine Christ taking the man away from the loud dissonance of the crowd and being alone with him in his silence in order to have an intimate and healing encounter. I see Christ entering into the silence with the deaf man as he put his fingers into his ears, imagining his hushed world.
In the Episcopal lectionary today, we celebrate Thomas Gallaudet, an Episcopal priest who established a church for deaf persons with services primarily in sign language, and Henry Winter Syle, the first deaf person to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. Like Christ, these two priests reached out to those whose lives were shrouded in silence. They ministered to the deaf but also allowed the deaf to minister to them. Those whose lives are veiled in silence have much to teach us, whose lives are over-crowded with dissonance, clatter and clamor.
I find it both ironic and significant that right after Jesus gave the deaf and mute man the gift of speech, he ordered his disciples and onlookers to practice silence (to tell no one). According to the text, Christ ordered them to practice silence several times and they still didn’t get it. “The more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed…”
In today’s Gospel, I see Jesus opening up the silent to the wonders of sound and language and inviting all of us noisemakers to enter into the beauty of silence.
Thomas Keating says, “God’s first language is Silence. Everything else is a translation.” Mahatma Gandhi said, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” And Meister Eckhart said, “Nothing in all creation is so like God as silence.”
As I begin my academic year at the GTU, I feel anxious and apprehensive about my own impediments in listening to and verbalizing academic material. In today’s Gospel, I hear an invitation to give all of my limitations to Christ, who will gently and intimately put his healing fingers and divine saliva all over them and open me up to new horizons of understanding.
I also hear an invitation to listen to silence the way Rainer Maria Rilke invites me in The First Elegy:
“Listen, my heart, as only saints have listened:
Until the gigantic all lifted them off the ground; so complete was their listening.
Not that you could endure God’s voice—far from it.
But listen to the voice of the wind and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence. It is murmuring towards you now…”
Lord, give us ears to hear your message for us in the silence and anoint our tongues with your saliva so that we might both proclaim your love and practice restraint in our speech. Amen.