Discovering Our Own Deafness

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, February 18, 2018

Ephphatha! Be opened! What a wonderful Gospel not only for the close of a retreat experience but for any time when we’ve been discerning how the Holy One has been moving in our lives and for reflecting on what we’ve taken in and truly heard.

In this passage from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 7:31-37), Jesus heals a person who has a double challenge: he’s deaf, and he also has a speech impediment. This may be why Mark writes that “the people brought him to Jesus.” This unnamed person couldn’t hear or speak, so deafnesshe couldn’t even cry out to Jesus in his need. He had to rely on others to intercede for him and to get Jesus’ attention. In this action of the others is an invitation to us also, an invitation to remember with gratitude all those who support and hold us in prayer at any time, but most especially during those times when we can’t seem to speak for ourselves, when our energy or passion is so low that we need others to advocate on our behalf.

Pause for a moment to offer thanks for all who, right at this moment, are holding you in prayer, bringing you to Jesus as the friends of the deaf person did; pause for a moment also to remember anyone in our world who right now is desperately in need of your prayerful encouragement and affirmation.

Whenever I hear this gospel, I think of a man named Benito. I first saw him when I lived in Jersey City, NJ in a high rise apartment building. The residents there were mostly Latino, so my very limited Spanish was sorely tested. But I happily discovered that sometimes we don’t really need words to communicate. From the first moment I moved in, I was so touched by the graciousness of my neighbors, who were constantly asking me “How are you?”, “How are you finding your way around?” “Is there anything you need?” Everyone was helpful. Everyone welcomed me. Everyone except Benito.

Anytime I saw him, it was as if I didn’t exist. When I was with Benito in the elevator, he would always yell “Abierto!” (“Open!) when we reached his floor, and then he’d exit and brush by me without saying a word. In this warm Latino culture, his behavior was a striking contrast to the spirit of all my other gracious neighbors.

If I greeted him with “Good morning” or “Buenos dias” or “How are you?” Benito never responded. Not only that, but he would sometimes brush against me, knock things out of my hand, and never apologize. I began to think, “What’s his problem?” And for weeks I had a single story for him, the only thing I knew about his life. And that single story was Rude. Rude. Rude.

Then one day I was on the elevator with another neighbor and as the doors started to close, Benito walked by.

“Isn’t that a shame about Benito?” my neighbor said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” she said. “You know his eyesight is so limited. And he just found out yesterday that his hearing is almost gone.”

In that moment, I wanted the elevator to swallow me whole. Here I had been making all kinds of judgments and sticking negative labels on Benito, when all this time he was struggling like the deaf person in today’s Gospel. He carried the double challenge of both limited sight and loss of hearing.

So which of us, Benito or Chris, was the deaf one? Which of us needed to pray “Abierto!” Open! to the needs of our neighbor?

When my heart was opened in that Ephphatha moment, my view of Benito was turned upside down. He was no longer a single story of rude, rude, rude. He was now a person of courage, navigating a dark and silent world with amazing grace. My judgment, my single story of who I thought him to be, got in the way of the truth of who he actually was.

deaf4This same Holy One who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak is active and alive in us, offering us the grace of his presence and healing. As we move into our day, may we continue to listen. May we live Ephphatha in the days ahead. May we be opened to the invitation to truly hear and offer compassion to all that our world loves, pursues, and suffers.

Ephphatha! Abierto! Amen!

Takeaway

Sit in a place of stillness. Listen intently and openly to the Holy One.
Can you call to mind a time when you might have passed judgment on another?
When your critical judgment based on what you saw or heard turned out to be far from the truth of the other’s reality?
What assumptions might have been underneath your judgment?
How did your view of the other change when you learned the truth of their circumstances or their story?
Ask the Holy One to bathe you in compassion and in openness of heart.

Images:
pinterest.com
tarabrach.com
steadfastlutheran.com

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayerful remembrance of all who were part of the guided retreat for the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa February 4-9. Today’s blog post is adapted from a reflection I offered on the closing day of that retreat.

Please now hold in your prayer these upcoming experiences:

February 21: Retreat day for the staff of RENEW International at Mount St. Mary House of Prayer, Watchung, NJ

February 26: Retreat day for Regional Vocation Directors at Emmaus House, Ocean Grove, NJ
Thank you!

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Listening as an Act of Love

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for February 4, 2018

 

When were you last deeply listened to by another?

Listened to without unsought advice being offered or judgment being expressed? Listened to by someone who wasn’t simply counting the seconds until your pause or intake of breath created an opening for the listener to jump in and offer you the wisdom of their years of experience? Listened to without being told, “I know just how you feel,” listeninghandtoearfollowed by the listener’s recounting of their story, perhaps a similar parallel event, but one that was not your story. When were you last so fully and attentively heard that you felt not only listened to but also valued and affirmed?

Many years ago in a survey, people were asked to recall a moment when they felt most deeply loved. Most of the responses indicated a striking similarity, for the moment of feeling most deeply loved was often also the moment when respondents were in the presence of someone who had the gift of profound listening. A listening that’s the kind David Augsburger describes when he writes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

Quite an equation, isn’t it? Being heard = being loved in some way. Hopefully, all of us have the graced opportunity to have in our lives a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a spiritual guide who has the particular gift of accompanying us in this way no matter what is unfolding in our lives. Henri Nouwen described so well the qualities of this person of presence and deep listening in Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

That level of caring and attentiveness can also be found in spiritual direction, sometimes called spiritual guidance or spiritual companionship. For the director, it’s a call to a listening so deep that it mirrors and reflects the unfailing presence of the Holy One who is the third person—along with the director and directee–in that meeting. This way of spiritual coming together is about the “stuff” of one’s life and how the Holy One is moving in all that “stuff.” As spiritual guides open their hearts to the sacred story of another and act as spiritual companions, they’re in a privileged place. Here they get to witness the unfolding story of how God is present and acting in another’s life and how the other is noticing the presence of the Holy One there.

In accompanying others as friends, mentors, teachers, spiritual guides, all of us must also come face to face with our own powerlessness and must own our inability to save others from their pain, to take away their losses, to mend their fractured relationships, much as we desire to do so. As listeners, we’re not called to enact what is beyond our human abilities. We practice the limits of living in that space of “not knowing, not curing, not healing.” We grow in trust in the power of the Holy One whose faithful presence we hope to mirror for others. We offer what is ours to give: spaciousness of heart and a safe place where others can lay down burdens, share what delights and draws them, and speak out loud their unique story, all with the assurance it will be received with reverence.

The following prayer by Jay McDaniel resonates with our hopes for becoming deep listeners. It’s one of the Prayers for a Thousand Years, a collection of hopes and  aspirations written as we moved from the end of the twentieth century into the twenty- first century, into these next thousand years:

earth weknowyourdream.org

In this century and in any century,
our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy.
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect.
May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness.
May we listen to God in quietness and awe.
And in this listening,
which is boundless in its beauty,
may we find the wisdom to cooperate with a healing spirit,
a divine spirit,
who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world, but we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.

Takeaway

Sit in a place of stillness.
Call to mind the last time you were fully and lovingly heard.
What did this experience feel like? Look like? Sound like?
When have you offered this same gift to another?
Ask the Holy One to listen with love in you, and give thanks.

Images:
Fotolia.com
Fluentu.com
Earthweknowyourdream.org

NOTE:

Please remember in your prayer all who are part of a week of guided retreat for the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM) taking place February 4-9, in Dubuque, Iowa. Thank you!

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