My mother got hearing aids last month. By her own admission, it has been a wonderful enhancement of her life — making it possible for her to interact in social situations which were becoming increasingly difficult. Unlike for some, the adjustment has been an easy one for her, although she is still sometimes overwhelmed by what she hears now that she had apparently not been hearing for some time. Like the cat crunching on her treat. Or me sighing in the kitchen. Or a slamming door which now makes her jump where before it was but a muffled thud which hardly caught her attention.
Before she actually decided on which hearing aids she would need, her audiologist and student assistants asked her all kinds of questions about the sorts of situations she finds herself in where hearing would be especially important. It makes sense, of course: if one spends most of one’s time in a quiet place at home, one does not need the technical ability in her hearing aids that she needs if she is out and about in groups of people. If you know my mother, you will not find yourself surprised that she put herself squarely on the ‘social’ end of that spectrum and so in the end we ordered the best they had.
It was before we had actually made a decision to order those hearing aids that her audiologist walked me down the hall. Quietly this is what she said to me: “You know, recent studies are linking hearing loss to the onset of dementia.” I did not get the impression that she was trying to frighten us into making an unnecessary purchase. It was just information she thought we should have. In fact, I’ve done a little poking around since and found that what she said was true. (For a little more information on this connection, click here.) And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Even as a non-scientist, I can see that hearing loss can lead to one’s isolating oneself and that can be the beginning of all sorts of hard things. If you are ‘cut off’ from the world for whatever reason, it would make sense that this alone could and would eventually impact one’s cognitive ability. For that matter, as I understand it, research is showing that if the auditory part of the brain ceases to be stimulated — as when profound hearing loss happens — that can impact the functioning of nearby parts of the brain as well.
Now, of course, there can be a huge difference between hearing and listening. To hear is to comprehend at some level. To listen is to take the information in much more profoundly. And yet, the two are inextricably connected. One could make the case that one has to be able and willing to hear before one is truly able to listen.
If I’m honest, I have to say I have to work pretty hard at listening. Especially if the information I am receiving is unexpected, or offensive, or doesn’t line up with my understanding of how the world works. No doubt this was Peter’s experience in the events just prior to him joining Jesus and James and John and Moses and Elijah on the top of a mountain. Jesus has just told them that the path before him would be marked by great suffering and rejection and death. And Peter would have nothing of it. You can’t blame him, really. It doesn’t line up with his understanding of how the world works or how God works in the world. I would have probably reacted in the same way.
It is right after this heated exchange that they make this climb up the mountain. It is right after this that their present is joined to the past in the appearance of both Moses and Elijah. It is right after this that they are witness to light and cloud and the voice of God. It is right after this that the voice of God commands them to listen to Jesus.
Oh, it is so that to listen to what we do not want to hear can be the biggest challenge of all. Until or unless what we didn’t want to hear or cannot begin to comprehend somehow rings true as through ears of faith we come to understand it as blessing after all.
Indeed, I think of my mother in those first days after she began wearing her hearing aids. She went to church that next Sunday and sat in her usual place. (Like many good Lutherans, you can be sure she wasn’t sitting any too close to the front.) She came home marveling at what she had been able to hear that she had long forgotten was hers to listen to. Especially this. The sound of her pastor’s voice as she made her way down the line of those kneeling to receive the sacrament. The sound of the words spoken over and over again, “The body of Christ, given for you.” Of course, not only could she hear, but she had put herself in a place where she could hear and listen for the voice of Jesus. I find it especially interesting that what she heard that Sunday morning was not first God’s love for her — but God’s profound love for others.
- Oh, it is so that if I cannot hear or if I refuse to listen, I can surely see how my world would become smaller and smaller still.
- If I cannot hear or if I refuse to listen— especially in my not listening to Jesus as the voice of God commands today — I might lose my ability altogether to comprehend this simple truth that Jesus suffered and died for you and for me and for all this broken world.
- If I cut myself off from others who help me hear and understand one can see how it would be more and more difficult to hold these truths close.
- If I don’t put myself within reach of the voice of Jesus, perhaps might it be so that eventually that part of my understanding loses its ability to understand altogether?
To be sure, my mother found herself on a mountaintop that first Sunday after she got her hearing aids as she was able to hear again what she forgot was hers to hear. What a wonder it was that in her first hearing again she was able to listen to such words of profound love and promise.
May this be so for all of us as we listen to Jesus. May this always be so.
- I, for one, have never found the Transfiguration easy to ‘preach.’ As you can see above, I have chosen to focus on one small part of the story. Do the words of God to “Listen to him” make sense as a place to focus this week? If not, what especially grabs your attention?
- There is a big difference between hearing and listening. In the part of Mark’s Gospel which precedes this, it is evident that while Peter ‘hears,’ he is probably not listening. How would you define the difference? What examples would you offer?
- Why do you think God commands the disciples to listen to Jesus? What did they need to hear and understand?
- How is it that you are called to be with others so as to better hear and listen to Jesus? Where is it that you might intentionally put yourself so you can be within reach of Jesus’ voice so that you can listen?