A friend of mine recently got hearing aids. He proceeded to make the statement so common to those who have just received such devices, “Oh, this is wonderful, why didn’t I do this earlier?”
But then, after getting a bit more used to the way sound was enhanced for him, he began to notice a difficulty he had not anticipated.
The hearing aid, not being able to prioritize sound the way a natural ear does, increased all sounds the same amount.
Where a natural ear would be listening for the most important sound in an environment and would be able to “focus” on that sound and screen out background noise, the hearing aid magnified all sounds, important or not.
My friend found that, especially in crowded environments, he needs to be looking at the person’s face with whom he is speaking, to see the words being formed, to see the facial expressions. He needed to see in order to hear better.
Do you see the spiritual parallel? In this nonstop culture, we are surrounded by noise. As we increase the number of voices we hear, receiving soundbites and tweets instantly, hearing chattering TV screens on a 24-hour news cycle, the relative “air space” or “column inches” given to God makes up a smaller part; it takes a more finely tuned ear in order to hear it.
It is hard to focus on God’s gentle, loving, humble, sometimes challenging words for us in the wash of sound around us.
It is as if we wear a cultural hearing aid, one that amplifies all sound uniformly. As persons of faith, we are challenged to prioritize some over others.
How? My friend with new hearing aids found out that in order to understand the voice he wanted to concentrate on, he had to look into the face of the person, to watch the words as they were being formed in the conversation.
What a lovely call is this, to both prayer and reading the word of God! Some refer to praying as “seeking God’s face” – that we would spend time experiencing the presence of God, both speaking to God and listening to God. Likewise, reading the scriptures is a way to watch the words being formed, the communication of God to God’s people unfolding, the great salvation story from Genesis to Revelation.
At this particular season of the year, as we enter the relentlessness of “the holidays,” let us take this challenge, this spiritual “hearing test.” Let us be committed to daily prayer and scripture reading, so to better tune our hearing to the cadence and caliber of God’s words to us.
Let us seek the face of God, so that we can hear God’s word, so that we can better speak it to the world.
The Rev. Rachel M. Fisher is with Aldersgate United Methodist Church in North Reading.