“Um, sorry, what did you say?” That’s the response I get many times when I’m talking to my younger brother. His hearing took a beating years ago when he was working at a car body repair shop. The steady noise combined with his serious work ethic to damage his hearing, so now, I have to repeat myself a few times sometimes when there is a lot of ambient noise around us.
And of course, all of know that one dear friend or family member who simply won’t wear their hearing aids! Hey, don’t judge! Getting old isn’t for sissies!
When I was making my journey to the Orthodox Faith, I was intrigued by a repeated command in the Liturgy. In Greek, it is “Proskomen!” And translated it means “Let us give our attention!” It happens at key times in the liturgy to make sure we are focused on these important moments so that we can embrace the depth and beauty and wisdom of the divine worship. And the reason it is there is because we humans can be “hard of hearing” in our hearts, especially in a society so cluttered with “noise” from so many sources. We are inundated by “communication” nowadays, and if we ignore the power of this noise to distract us, it won’t be long before we find ourselves in places we never expected to be!
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Mark 4:1-9:
At that time, Jesus began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Let’s face it, we are easily distracted as a human race. We focus on minor things and miss important things in a seemingly deaf state of mind! And this spiritual “hard of hearing” malady takes a heavy toll on our lives. No wonder the Lord prefaces His parable about “a sower went out to sow” by saying “LISTEN!” And then He ends the parable with another familiar phrase for those who read the Gospels regularly: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The greatest cause of spiritual deafness lies in our lack of focus and purpose. We live lives easily captured by the frivolous and the temporary. And then we avoid anything that might wake us up from this distraction with all the strength we can muster. We avoid the “uncomfortable” and confrontational moments of our faith, knowing that if we take our faith seriously, that attentiveness, that “listening,” will truly alter our lives. And that’s scary, isn’t it? But, when we consider the substantial cost of our inattentiveness, our spiritual deafness, the cost of a purposeful life seems an easy choice, even if it isn’t easy to do! And the courage to not give up even when other around you are “spiritually deaf” can only come from that place where I choose to love God more than immediate comfort!
Today, the Church has purposefully designed even the Divine Liturgy to help us overcome our spiritual deafness. All the disciplines of the Faith are meant to make us more able to “hear” and embrace the life-changing and life-creating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When you fast, you participate in the grace that opens your spiritual ears! When you pray, your heart is conditioned for intimacy with God. And when you give of your time, talents, and treasures, you sensitize your spiritual “ears” to hear that still, small, voice of the Spirit whispering hope to your heart. In other words, your ability to truly “hear” makes you Orthodox on Purpose!