Ephphatha…Be opened. Imploring Jesus, the companions of the deaf man bring him to this rabbi for whom rumors of healing have begun to spread throughout the Mediterranean world. It is an encounter in the Decapolis, a largely Gentile region, and although we do not know for certain, it is likely the man and his companions were Gentiles. The Jewish Jesus invites the man into a moment of intimacy and dignity. His ears are suddenly opened and his tongue is loosened. A person who was profoundly marginalized and excluded from the gift of human communication can now both hear and speak. And his joy cannot be contained. In our world today, where we often experience incessant streams of information, yet at the same time, a paradoxical diminishment in our capacity to hear and to speak with one another, how might Jesus be inviting us into ephphatha, to be opened?
The first reading from Isaiah might offer us some cues. Isaiah, like Jesus, begins with the prophet’s attuned awareness to our frightened hearts. Isaiah speaks of God’s fidelity and love in a time of the Babylonian captivity, as Jesus speaks in the context of the Roman occupation – both periods of profound communal dislocation and alienation from self-identity and culture. In times of oppression, we often only hear the sounds of fear and suffering that surround us and stir within us, but Isaiah promises God’s recompense,- not only healing, but transformational healing, a healing that calls for ephphatha, for us to be opened, opened to new possibilities and new dimensions of ourselves and the world. Isaiah takes us through a sacred sensory journey of what shapes us as human creatures: seeing, hearing, walking, speaking. None in the human family are excluded from this sensory journey: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the tongues of the mute sing. Almost as a harbinger of the vision put forth in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, Isaiah chooses images that proclaim the love of God, of neighbor, of self and of all creation are integrally interwoven. He begins with the incarnational beauty of the human experience and opens us further to the created world. Streams burst forth in deserts, rivers flow in grasslands, burning sands and thirsty grounds are filled with life giving water. God’s love touches us at the intimately personal level and expands beyond to a living cosmos.
In our own time, we are often painfully aware of our lack of openness, our constricted capacity to hear and to speak. This is especially true for our brothers and sisters who live on the margins in any way: the frightened people of a collapsing Afghanistan, the long suffering people of Haiti, the elderly dying alone in COVID wards, children separated from their parents at the border, children living in internet deserts who cannot participate in virtual school. So many without voice and so many without ears to hear. In addition to people living on the margins in our time, it would appear that our very planet groans with a deep yearning for her distress to reach our closed ears.
At times, it feels like all too much. How can I respond with love and compassion for my brothers and sisters? How can my ears and my heart be opened to their voices and also to the cry of our beautiful planet so in need of healing? If we listen closely to Isaiah, to Jesus and even to some of the quantum physicists, theologians and spiritual leaders of our day, I believe we are being invited to hear with a new awareness of the sacred interconnectedness of all life, an interconnectedness that is infused with the overflowing and endlessly creative love of God. God’s voice no longer speaks to us from atop a hierarchical order or great chain of being in which the “inanimate” resources of the earth do not matter, or worse, are to be dominated and exploited. We hear instead the pulsating love of God moving through the tiniest Boson particle, to the wing of a vulnerable sparrow, to the roar of a cascading waterfall and into the immense silence of a far off galaxy. Theologian Ilia Delio offers that in our post-modern world where the new learnings of science are opening us to an expanded consciousness of God and describes these processes of deepening interconnectedness as the Christification of the universe. We discover then that the voice of the deaf man whose tongue is suddenly loosened and the cry of creation for healing and restoration are one.
The transformative opening to which Jesus invites the deaf man, and in this moment, all of us, is not just to an experience of conversational exchange. We are being called to truly hear, to listen deeply. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in his recent book, Dancing in God’s Earthquake, suggests that deep listening begins even in the moment when we seek to speak God’s name. If we attempt to say the word YHWH in its original form without vowels, this leads us to utter a sound of breathing (YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh). For Waskow, it is no accident that the ancient wisdom of the sacred Hebrew word YHWH, given to Moses as the name for God who is beyond all utterances, is in concert with our growing understanding of God as sacred breath infusing all of creation. God as breath, or as Waskow offers, God and all of creation dance in a process of interbreathing.
To hear, to speak, to breathe. What does it mean for us to have our own grace filled, life transforming encounter with Jesus in this time of epochal change? Do we have the courage of the deaf man and his community of companions to approach the Christ and be opened? I’d like to close with a passage from a prayer written by Rabbi Waskow.
III. Earth Can’t Breathe
All life on Earth depends on Interbreathing.
We breathe in what the trees breathe out;
The trees breathe in what we breathe out.
Our Interbreathing is the Breath that keeps all Earth alive.
Our Interbreathing is the very Name we call You,
Is the still small voice of simply breathing.
But the Flood of CO2
That we call the “climate crisis”
Chokes our breathing.
Chokes Your Breathing,
All Earth is scorched by burning fossil fuels
And Carbon Pharaohs burn their way to faster wealth.
Earth can’t breathe and Your Name rattles in our throats.
IV. A Prayer and a Response
You Who are the Breath of Life,
At Sinai You taught us,
Not to take My Name with an empty heart.
Not to breathe My Name with empty Spirit.
Every breath we take
is Itself Your Name,
Part of that great Breath that is the Holy One.
You Who are the Breath of Life,
Heal us to breathe.
May our mute tongues be loosened to sing of your sacred breath O God. May our ears be opened to truly hear the echoes of your love for us and all creation. Ephphatha!
Ann Carr is a long time member of the Maryknoll Affiliate movement. She has served as part of the Maryknoll Border Project team in El Paso, Texas-Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, has participated in several short term mission encounters in Central and South America and has twice served on the Maryknoll Affiliate leadership board. Her undergraduate work at Bucknell University was in Religious Studies and she completed a thesis in spirituality and the theology of liberation. Currently, she works as a pediatrician in Philadelphia, PA with children with special health care needs. She also works part time with the team at a children’s home in Macuelizo Honduras. Her areas of interest include liberation theology, the integration of contemplation and mission, evolutionary consciousness theology and trauma informed care for children.
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