Shielding my eyes from the blinding sun, I sensed, rather than heard, a presence to my left as I stood in line waiting to board the plane. His face was about five inches from mine. I could see his lips moving but could hear nothing. Finally I faced him squarely and he repeated himself. “What’s your number?”
No, he wasn’t asking for my phone number, but rather the all-important number that indicated my placement in line.
Being deaf in one ear, the result of a surgery that removed a tumor from my brain a couple of years ago, has taken some getting used to. I don’t know what seems to draw people to the ear that doesn’t hear, but I miss a lot of conversations and come off as aloof more than I like.
We can take our sense of hearing for granted. I know I did.
Pope Emeritus Benedict, in a homily in Munich in September 2006, spoke about our having a “hardness of hearing where God is concerned.” It is possible to be physically deaf, yet have complete clarity with our spiritual ears. It is also possible to have finely tuned physical hearing, and be completely deaf spiritually. Anything in between those extremes is possible.
What gets in the way of our capacity to hear the voice of God?
It’s pretty noisy out there in the world and it is easy to adjust our hearing to only certain frequencies that interest us. We can drown out all the unwanted noises by sticking colorful headphones on our heads or by using ear buds, message being: Do not disturb! We can equally let the world drown out the voice of God as we fill every moment with sound.
Pope Benedict goes on to say that with all these other distractions that we fill our ears with, we have learned to completely tune out God. “Along with this hardness of hearing or outright deafness where God is concerned, we naturally lose our ability to speak to him and with him.”
How we hear impacts our ability to speak and even how we see. All three work together. About six months after my surgery I had a routine eye appointment. After the examination, the doctor asked if something had recently changed in my life. He seemed puzzled as he looked at some of the results. I shared about my surgery and he nodded knowingly. Apparently, losing hearing in one ear affects which eye is dominant.
I think we can safely say that hearing, seeing, and speaking are interconnected on a physical level. Because we are both body and soul, this connection affects us on a spiritual level as well. Christopher West, when teaching on the Theology of the Body, says, “What we do physically affects us spiritually and what we do spiritually affects us physically.”
Like it or not, it’s all connected. If we are deaf to God, we are likely impaired in our prayer life as well. This in turn will affect our ability to speak to others about God, and how we see God at work in the world. The more deficient we are in these matters, the less we will sense that anything is radically lacking in our life. That is a very dangerous place to be spiritually.
Lent is fast approaching. This is a perfect opportunity to intentionally reflect on what sounds we let take up space in our heads, what sights we allow to touch our souls, what words come from our hearts and how those words impact others. We really must strive for an integrity between all these.
I have found an upside to being deaf in one ear: it’s easier to shut out unwanted noises that can distract me. Silence is, at times, a most remarkable and welcome gift. Through it my spiritual ears are becoming keener.
I invite you to find time for silence this Lent and thereafter. It can be positively addictive, but it may take time to wean yourself from noise. God speaks in whispers, and if we always have distractions we may just miss the wonderful things He has to say to each of us. I promise, He has some pretty amazing things we really want to hear.