Lenten meditation: Ears to hear

Photo by Cameron Lee
Photo by Cameron Lee

Some national statistics estimate that about one in five Americans over the age of 12 has some hearing loss in one or both ears.  Furthermore, it’s estimated that only one in five people who might benefit from hearing aids actually uses them.

That may not be a terribly large club, but I’ve officially joined.

I’ve had some hearing loss ever since I was a kid, the result of a childhood sickness and high fever.  It didn’t help matters that I neglected to protect my hearing as an adult, sometimes working with tools in ways that left my ears ringing.  Add to that a little normal age-related hearing loss, and you’ve got good reason to get a little help.  Still, I put it off for years, until I found myself having more and more trouble being able to track conversations, especially in meetings with soft-spoken people.  Finally, I took the plunge, and I’m mostly glad I did.

The technology has grown by leaps and bounds since the bulkier instruments my father used.  The relatively unobtrusive digital aids I have come with a range of special settings for noisy restaurants, watching TV, being outdoors, or talking on the telephone.  They’re not perfect, and sometimes annoying.  But they make a noticeable difference.

The most striking experience comes when I’ve worn them all day, then take them out at night.  Suddenly, I feel almost deaf, as if someone has stuffed my head full of cotton.

It’s different with my glasses: I’ve known for a very long time that I can’t function without them, and wouldn’t dream of leaving them on the nightstand all day.

But I’ve been managing without hearing aids my entire life.  I knew, of course, that my hearing was getting worse.  I wasn’t surprised when the audiologist said flatly, “You flunked your hearing test.”  Poor hearing, however, was my day-to-day reality; I was used to it.  Only now am I able to do the A-B comparison: with hearing aids, and without.  Only now do I know — unmistakably — just how bad my hearing has become.

Yet there are days when I don’t put my hearing aids on, thinking I won’t need them.  And without the contrast, I go right back to life as it was, managing without them, unaware of the deficit.

So what does this have to do with Lent?  I’ve joked with friends that it would be nice if my hearing aids had not just a restaurant or a TV setting, but a God setting.  At the click of a button, you could tune in to divine direction.

But after thinking about it, I’m not sure it’s much of a joke.

Of course, it’s not as if the Christian life should be nothing more than waiting for God to tell us what to do or not to do.  Indeed, as human parents, we hope and pray for the day in which our children have internalized all that we’ve taught them, and are able to make their own wise decisions without having to wait on Mom and Dad. 

But as God once said to the prophet Ezekiel, “Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek 12:2-3a, NRSV).  It is our own hardness of heart that makes us deaf to the often quiet voice of God.

And as Jesus told his listeners, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (e.g., Mark 4:9,23).   To pray, to read, study, and meditate on the Scriptures, to worship: all of these help us tune in, refocus, redirect, re-envision.  But what about when we’re not practicing such things?  How much spiritual deafness have we become accustomed to, without even knowing it?  How obtuse or inattentive are we in our day-to-day “normal” state?

Lent is a time of re-orientation, of repenting of our deafness, of re-tuning ourselves to resurrection.  Let anyone with ears to hear listen, the better to receive Easter with gladness when it comes.