Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 9, 2012
Again Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
“Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” —
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
One of the most infamous compositions of all “modern music” is by the experimental American composer John Cage, which he entitled 4’33” (Four Minutes and Thirty Three Seconds), which he described as a “composition in three movements.” For the first performance, the first movement was timed at 30 seconds. Let’s listen to it now . . . [30 seconds of silence]
The second movement was 2’23”: the third was 1’40”. I think we’ll skip these for now, as the second two movements are as exciting as the first, and only longer!
According to Cage, this composition of 1952 was composed for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements. The piece purports to consist of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, although it is commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence".
Of course, to call this “composition” controversial is an understatement. When listening to a musical performance, we expect the performers to produce the musical sounds and for us to listen to them and take them in. So I wouldn’t blame anyone who did not rush out and buy a compact disc of this piece (they are available, by the way!)
Instead, however, I’d like you to focus in on how you reacted when I promised to present the performance of a musical composition and then you heard 30 seconds of silence. Maybe you thought, “Come on, get on with it, what are we supposed to hear?” If we’d gone for the whole 4’33”, I imagine you’d go through the same emotions as I would: confusion, frustration, annoyance, even anger. The silence can become unnerving and even frightening. We want to fill it up.
Yet, I would suggest that unless we have some silence in our lives, we can’t really discover God. So, if our lives are filled constantly with sounds: TV, conversation, ipods, streaming music on the computer, etc., we really cannot expect to hear and know God.
My good friends the Cistercian women the Trappistines (Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey) observe long periods of silence each day. Why would they do this? Because they have nothing to say? Because they are not very social? I assure that neither of these is true. Rather, it is out of respect and support of one another, that they might enjoy the quiet needed to hear God. For it is true, that we can block out God’s “small, still whisper” with all kinds of noise and commotion.
But, you no doubt might say, “But I’m not a monk.” It is true, we make no vows of silence, but can we make a smaller “promise” to choose silence at least at some point in each day, some prayerful moment each day, in order to block out all competition for the voice of God? For if we insist on choosing competition for the voice of God, the competition is going to win.
In the gospel, we see the importance of “going to the quiet.” There is a man in the gospel who cannot hear. We don’t know why he cannot hear, but he can’t. How does Jesus heal him? The gospel offers two parts: First, Jesus leads the man away from the loud crowd. Next, Jesus opens his ears. Then he can hear, then he can speak. In this, Jesus is showing us an example: If we want to hear him, we’ll need two things, FIRST, go away from the commotion. SECOND, ask Jesus to open our ears so we can hear.
Why don’t we go to the quiet? I’ll speak for myself: out of fear. I’m afraid of the quiet, it can make me anxious. But, after about 25 years of seriously trying to learn prayer, I must tell you, if I don’t go to the quiet at least sometime each day, I am not going to hear and know God.
So, what’s to be done, we who are not monks, who have not made a vow of silence? Let’s make a practice of silence. FIRST: Go away from the commotion. It’s going to take some willpower: turn off the TV, the computer, the conversation, and go to the quiet. SECOND: Ask Jesus to open the ears of our hearts, so we can listen.
Believe me, I’m not suggesting that this will be easy! I was recently at my brother’s house with his wife and seven children. It was the usual pandemonium. However, we all decided that we’d have some quiet—we celebrated Mass together. It was amazing—from 100 decibels to zero, at least for a few minutes—and then back from the quiet to the commotion. But we did have some time for the quiet that gave us the possibility to hear God. Let’s respect and love each other enough to give them the quiet where they can hear God.
Let’s help each other to have some quiet to restore our humanity—to restore our ears, in this noisy world, to hear God. Be not afraid—the quiet is where the Lord wants to lead us, so that he can find us and we can find and hear him. Start small—maybe even 4’33”—read a short passage of the gospels, and then sit in the quiet and listen—and trust in the still small voice that is our God. As we see by watching Jesus in today’s gospel, the Lord wants us to be able to hear him and will help us to do so. God wants to have a word with each of us, his beloved children, a daily word. Can we come to quiet to hear him?