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Holy listening

Holy listening

Psalm 24, 29 (Morning)

Psalm 8, 84 (Evening)

Genesis 18:16-33

Galatians 5:13-25

Mark 8:22-30

Our Gospel reading today in the Daily Office is an interesting tag-team with the Gospel in the Eucharistic readings for the Feast of the Presentation, Also on Feb. 2 in our calendar. (Luke 2:22-40) The Luke reading reveals how prophetic words can come from unlikely places–in this case, two elderly folk who might best be described as “temple fixtures,” but not part of the temple power structure. Our Daily Office reading in Mark illustrates the power of conversation in grace and healing–the blind man doesn’t have full sight at first, and he describes the incompleteness of it to Jesus.

Both readings speak to the power of active listening, and to the bigger challenge of how that is incorporated in the art of “holy listening.”

Now, more than ever, we are bombarded with conversations about Jesus on an intellectual or academic level. A quick paruse of one’s favorite search engine yields pages and pages of people either championing Jesus or dissing Christianity at an emperic or intellectual level. Indeed, many of us found our way to the Episcopal Church because of the old saw, “You don’t have to check your brain at the door to belong here.”

Yet, if we stop there, and settle for “not being intellectually offended,” but go no deeper into the mysteries of our faith, we will end up like our blind man at Bethsaida. Oh, we’ll certainly have vision, more than we had prior to embracing a life of Christian faith, but it’s more likely to be shadows and outlines and those walking trees the blind man describes.

The blind man in our Gospel today could have decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and say no more, or perhaps he could have felt too weighed down with all those frailties of human nature mentioned in today’s reading from Galatians, and decided he didn’t even deserve to ask for better sight than what Jesus first gave him. But he didn’t. He decided to simply flat-out tell Jesus what he was seeing, with no accusation or shame or blame. As it turned out, Jesus was actively listening to him, and basically agreed another try was in order.

This story also serves as a reminder that holy listening sometimes means we don’t always like what we hear, but we are called to attempt to respond to what we do hear. I imagine that “fully human” part of Jesus might have been a tad disappointed when he heard the blind man still wasn’t seeing all that great–but he didn’t take it personally. In an era where it’s easier to circle the wagons and be insular about our faith stories, saving them only for those who we think might appreciate them, this story challenges us to tell them to people who might not see them the way we do–and it also challenges us to truly listen to the people who don’t tell us what we want to hear.

When is a time you thought you helped someone else “see,” only to discover they aren’t seeing as well as you had hoped? How do we learn to respond to that with grace?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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