Ephphatha, be opened. What opens the ear to hear? Is it not true that when the heart is open we are able to hear? Feel into this reality for a moment: when my heart is closed or hardened by harsh judgments, hurt, presumptions, shadow stuff, worries, and you can add to the list, we do not hear. We hear only our noise.
The voice of God speaks: Ephphatha, be opened. As the heart opens so does the ear! If we turn to the Rule, St. Benedict’s teaching is a like a straight arrow in depicting the essence of this reality. The first word in the Rule is ‘obsculta’, ‘listen’, and this emphasis on one word ‘listen’ is followed in the first sentence with even more emphasis: ‘incline the ear of your heart’. Here is a dynamic (free) translation of verse 1 of the Rule:
“Listen, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher. Attend to the message you hear and make sure that it pierces to your heart, so that you may accept with willing freedom and fulfill by the way you live the directions that come from your loving Father.”
Attend to the message, make sure the message pierces your heart… make sure you incline or bend the ear of your heart: what is heard with the ear is connected to the heart. This first verse of the Prologue frames the whole Rule!
If we, right now, were to go outside and listen to the sounds of nature, those sounds would come to our ears pure and unadulterated; the ear connected to the heart would immediately receive these peaceful sounds of nature’s life. To change experiences, if we begin an ordinary simple conversation with another person this experience gets way more complicated…what we hear stirs up the heart, ours and the person we are conversing with. We quickly can feel how what we hear has multiple resonances in the heart! I believe this awareness is important to our ‘listening’, in order to help to deepen our listening both within and without to our neighbor. This is especially true as we hear the Word of God, which directly touches the many layers of the heart. The monastic practice of lectio divinacultivates a listening heart; it teaches us how to open interiorly to the Divine voice that speaks to the ‘ear of the heart’: ‘Today, if you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts’ (Psalm 94).
Returning to the Rule, Sr. Aquinata Bockmann says: “Incline or bend always occurs in the Rule in the context of humility” (Perspectives On the Rule of St. Benedict, p.17). What if in our exchanges with one another we kept this attitude in our awareness: that is, as we receive what the other says we bend the ear of the heart to listen and take in what they are saying. This interior gesture of inclining or bending to hear keeps the heart open. Sr. Aquinata adds: “Many might open their physical ears and hear sounds, but if they don’t bend their hearts, they will never experience truth. Most biblical texts speak of the inclining of the ear…; but they also add that it is the heart to which the Word of God speaks” (p.17). Let me repeat what Sr. Aquinata is saying: we will not experience truth: the truth of ourselves, the truth of the other, the truth of a situation, the truth of God, if we don’t bend the heart to listen!
The heart: the early monastics saw the heart as “the core of the person with its power of loving, but also the power to think” (p.17). So no wonder our listening must be connected to it! Fr. Terrance Kardong in his commentary writes the following on this first sentence of the Rule: “The first verse explains the full significance of listening: complete attention of the whole person; good will; implementation. ‘Hearing’ has priority over seeing and activity in both the RB and the Bible” (Benedict’s Rule A Translation and Commentary, p.5). Here is Fr. Kardong’s translation of verse 1 of the Prologue:
Listen, O my son (daughter), to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart. Willingly accept the advice of a devoted father and put it into action.
Listening, hearing is foundational to the monastic way. Fr. Kardong like Sr. Bockmann lay out this pattern from the one simple verse that opens the Rule: “hear, ponder, implement” (p.7). We hear and ponder with the heart and implement what we have received as coming from the voice of God. To incline, to bend the ear of the heart is pivotal to hearing and receiving; otherwise the ego remains king or queen and we hear nothing more than those habitual voices, which form only a very partial view of life. The voice of our God is much more subtle and silent…it does not shout at the street corners…but speaks as a small still voice.
‘Be opened’: these words of Jesus are addressed to the ear of the heart…the Divine voice cries out daily: ‘Be opened’. And, then, ‘ponder, implement’. This simple instruction evangelizes our heart and makes them ready to be an authentic witness and voice of the gospel. Amen.