Evensong Meditation--Ephphantha--Be Opened or Openness Opening
A Meditation Delivered at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark
Psalm 103; Gal. 2:1-10; Mark 7: 31-37
The Reverend Tyler Doherty, Priest-in-Charge
It’s interesting that on an evening when are to bless and dedicate a new piano for the Cathedral, our gospel features a, “deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.” Whether we are talking about an actual deaf man is open question—many scholars have noted that the Greek word κωφός originally meant blunt, or dull and is used in the Old Testament (in places like Isaiah and Micah) to refer to gentiles who are not open to the words of the prophets. Mark may be setting before us a physical healing, but there are more profound, spiritual resonances at work here as well with clear implications for the life of discipleship and prayer. The man thrust before Jesus is somehow closed off to the new song God has been singing in Christ from the foundation of the world. He can’t hear the music. Jesus pulls him aside, spits, places his fingers in his ears, and utters the single word “ephphatha” in Aramaic, which means “be opened.” I don’t deny that there was a physical healing that resulted from this encounter (I’m quite sure there was), but I want to focus instead on what this injunction from Jesus—ephphatha—might mean for us here and now.
I was invitated to the symphony recently—my first time—to hear a performance of compositions by Saint-Saens. Needless to say, it was magical. What I noticed, after the fact of course, was that during the performance, I was totally immersed in the music. I wasn’t thinking about whether the babysitter was going to have a party while we were out, I wasn’t trying to place Saint-Saens in the history of western musical development, I wasn’t even aware of time passing in any real sense. Not even that usual awareness of a “me” hearing music being played. There was just music. Just music musicking. It was one of those moments of grace where my habitual way of structuring the world, controlling it, making sense of it just fell away. Not through some kind of mental trick. Not through any effort on my part. But by sheer accident. I fell into it. I was opened. Or perhaps we could say the openness opened. Ephphatha.
Normally, I will confess to being rather κωφός—blunt and dull. I need Jesus to unclog the wax in my ears with one of his miracle wet willies. Like the man in our passage from this evening’s gospel I think a lot of us are often closed off to the new thing God doing in our midst, right under our noses. We are often so much in the thrall of our story of how things should be, that we fail to recognize the miracle of how things actually are. Not how the world, but that it is, is the mystical,” as Wittgensteintells us. A rather mischievous friend of mine is fond of saying that we miss the presence of God because we are busying “shoulding” all over everything. We are so busy telling God about all our problems and the laundry list of things He needs to accomplish by the end of Evensong, that we are blunted and dulled to the new song of unconditional love, radical welcome, and indiscriminate grace God is singing in our hearts.
We each have different sets of “shoulds” that deafen us to the immediacy, vibrancy, and radiance of God’s presence right here and now in the midst of our so-called ordinary lives. Of course, we don’t think of them as shoulds at all—they are simply how other people must behave so that my life can run according to plan. Use your turn signal. Don’t take more than 10 items into the express checkout lane. Vote Republican/Democrat and share a properly fond affection for Kevin Costner’s oeuvre (Waterworld excluded)… the list goes on. We have these requirements that keep us constantly at war with the world. Swimming upstream. Going against the grain. And we make ourselves miserable in the process. We become blunt and dull.
We have these requirements about others and we have requirements about ourselves as well. We have to appear peaceful at all times. We can’t ever experience a negative emotion. We can’t make mistakes. We have to be endlessly self-sacrificing for the needs of others. We have to make people happy all the time. Whatever form they take, these too blunt us to the reality of life, just as it is, unfolding in God.
When Jesus takes the man aside and places his fingers in the man’s ears and utters those words—ephphatha—it’s important to notice that he not telling the man to perform some work, do penance, or brush up on his catechism. Jesus’ “be opened” is a a work that is no work—it is the effortless effort of yielding to love, of consenting to the openness of who we already are at the center of our being. And what’s more, the opening is something that Jesus does, not us. This isn’t a call to get out our spiritual crowbars and try prying open our closed-offness through an effort to will. “Be opened” is a curious command. It’s telling us that we already are opened by virtue of what God has done for us in Christ. Openness is who we really are. We just have to be to be opened. All those other aspects of ourselves—the stories we tell about ourselves, others, and the requirements we have about how things should be—all those are actually what close us off, deafen us, make us blunt, and dull us to the mysterious unfolding of God in our lives.
Ephphatha is really call to stop believing the stories we tell about ourselves, about God, about other people that function like ear plugs against the song that God is singing in our hearts—the song that tells us that no matter who we are, no matter where we’ve come from, no matter how many times we’ve strayed off the straight and narrow, God loves us. Just yesterday, I was reading Elizabeth of the Trinity’s last letter to her Carmelite prioress before she died in 1901. Do you what she kept repeating over and over throughout the letter as her final words to her Carmelite sisters? “Let yourself be loved… Let yourself be loved…. Let yourself be loved!” Just be. Just let yourself be as you are without any cosmetic fiddling. Just be. All of that is another way of saying be opened… be opened… be opened. Ephphatha is a call to drop the story and to see and hear as if for the first time. Without those stories, commentaries, litanies of judgements and requirements, the world—God’s good creation—starts to poke its nose out. What is the world like when seen through the eyes of just letting everything be? Who are we when the stories fall away and we let ourselves experience the love from which nothing can separate us? Ephphatha. Be opened. Try it and find out.