Taste and See
“Taste and see that the lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).
Complete stillness. The priest muttered inaudible prayers at the altar. Incense billowed upwards, lit up in a haze around the few twinkling candles. Time stood still, while stone walls reverberated with soft gregorian melodies. The young man was transfixed, kneeling through his first Mass at the Grande Chartreuse cloister in Southeastern France.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has no effect in a soul that is barren.
Our souls are barren, when fed primarily by the bland comforts, meaningless information, and mind-numbing distractions of a secular age. The soul is conditioned by what we put into it, which means we must train the soul to soak in the good and beautiful.
“Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him” (Mark 7:31-32).
He was deaf and mute.
It is impossible to imagine life without noise, especially a life in which one has never heard noise. We can imagine, in heaven perhaps, a whole other gamut of colors. Here we are confined to the ROYGBIV spectrum, of reds and blues and yellows. Suppose, for an instant, that in heaven our eyes will see entirely new colors, sunsets that make ours down here look dreary, or waterfalls that splash blues which make ours look grey. My father was a microtonal composer. He was fascinated with the infinite range of musical intervals, and often wondered, like a giddy child, about the musical possibilities in heaven.
In the same way that we are unable to fathom the beauty of heaven, this deaf man was unable to fathom the beauty of noise.
What about talking? The Gospel tells us he had an “impediment of speech.” It does not clarify the kind of impediment. Maybe he just stuttered, or perhaps he could not speak a single coherent word. When I lived in Greece, at best, I acquired a rather shoddy grasp of the language. I could speak with a person one-on-one, though never with much depth. As soon a group of people started jabbering back and forth, I was completely lost. Conversation is one of the most basic parts of social life. Without it, you feel terribly lonely.
He could not hear. He could not talk. He was cut off from the world around him — cut off in a prison of the senses.
“[Jesus] took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Mark 7:33-35).
What has happened?
He met Jesus Christ. Thousands of years before, God spoke, and the universe appeared. His Word went out into creation and wove together all the laws of physics, mathematics, moleculars, light, water, plants, and animals, a dynamic tapestry of life. The same Word of God reached into the dirt of earth and breathed into it, creating mankind.
That same Word of God stands face to face now with the deaf man. As the Word once reached out and touched Adam, so he reaches out and touches the deaf. As he once breathed a soul into dirt, he breathes, and with the saliva from his mouth, touches the tongue of the mute. He looks up to heaven, sighing, ‘Ephphatha,’ ‘Be opened.’
This is how God wishes to touch us. He wants to wake up our senses.
“The seeds are good but the cultural soil has been depleted. The seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, only properly grow in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, [and] adventures.”
John Senior wrote this in his book, The Death of Christian Culture. He observed that the seeds of the Gospel and the ideas of great thinkers have no effect in students without imagination. The best education comes to nothing, if children have not first learned to appreciate beautiful music and art. The parables and teachings of Jesus Christ are waisted on deaf ears if we do not first condition ourselves by taking time to look up at the stars.
“There is a specter haunting our secular age, ‘the spectre of meaninglessness,’” another philosopher comments. “[We live in a] flattened human universe [today] where the escapes are boredome and distraction…” (James K. A. Smith).
The real crisis in our culture is not a lack of morality. It is a lack of wonder. The real scandals of our times are not what you hear about the politicians or movie stars, it is the scandal that we are not enjoying enough the good life, the life of cherishing God.
"Taste and see that the lord is good" (Psalm 34:8)
Christ came that we could learn to taste and see.
“[Jesus] took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears…looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened’ (Mark 7:33-34).
The way Jesus heals is so spectacular. He spits and touches. God saves us through and in creation.
“Creation is beautiful and harmonious,” St. John Chrysostom preached, “So that you can take pleasure in it and be enriched by it.”
“All things teach us and lead us to God.” St. Porphirios explains. “All things around us are droplets of the love of God…Beautiful moments predispose the soul to prayer.”
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation" (1 Peter 2:2)
Return now to the young man kneeling at Mass. Philip Gröning, a young German filmmaker, sent a letter to the La Grande Chartreuse monastery in 1984. He wanted permission to do a documentary of the monks’ life in utter silence. They replied back that they needed time to consider the idea. Monks are never in a rush. Sixteen years later they wrote him again, inviting him to the cloister. His documentary was released in 2005, recieving international applause. There is no music and no talking — just a silent glimpse into the heart of worship.
What is it about traditional Christian worship that convicts a modern person?
It clashes with everything society values. It is slow, quiet, rigorous even. Yet, within its quietness, there is a power.
We are not ready for the full weight of the gospel. The soil can not bear good fruit, without first being worked and fertilized. We have work to do, to train our senses to reach out to God.
There is a rhythm in the Church. The ceremonies of the Mass, the theological insight of our paraliturgical devotions, the Benediction, the Angelus, the Rosary, the daily psalms in the Divine Office — these are not just pious things to do. These are the meat and bread that condition our imagination. By kneeling through the Canon, breathing in the insense at the Gospel readings, or reciting the Angelus during our lunch break, we train our souls to wonder. A soul of wonder is a soul open to God.
May our Lord reach down into our hearts, and, as he touched the deaf man, touch us, that our soul opens to His reality.