Christ's mission in one word:

our invitation to “Ephphatha”

Christ's mission in one word: the invitation to “Ephphatha”

When we reflect on living fully, living well, most of us will recognise the moments when our fears and attachments have closed us off from the natural openness of our heart.

How might we have met situations we found challenging with more peace and compassion? How might we have greeted the changing circumstances of life with more openness, without trying to grasp and control?

One Saturday afternoon when I was eight or nine years old, I can remember being taken to the cinema to see some popular children’s film.

 

I can’t remember anything at all about the film we went to see, but I was very struck by something in the short educational documentary they played before it.

 

Scientists studying a type of monkey put some nuts in a hollow log, then retreated to watch what happened. One of the monkeys, who’d been observing all this closely from a nearby tree, came down to explore. Spotting the nuts through a hole half way down the log, it reached inside and grabbed a handful.

 

A few seconds later, the scientists slowly approached. The monkey was alarmed. It called out loudly and tried to pull its hand out of the log so it could get away. But it wouldn’t let go of the nuts. And as long as it continued to grasp hold of them, it’s closed hand wouldn’t fit through the hole.

Learning to meet our life with more openness and less grasping is a central theme in meditation. 

It is a skill and orientation which helps open us to the preciousness of life, and lessens our suffering as we navigate its flow. The grasping mind wants everything nailed down on its own terms. It struggles against the openness needed to flow with life’s flow. Recognising this tendency in ourselves, we can learn to open the closed hand of the mind and greet life with our open heart.

When it’s needed, being able to apply the gift of narrow, focussed attention is hugely valuable. It helped the monkey find the nuts. It helped our ancestors find food without becoming the food of something else. Without this gift we would find it all but impossible to carry out our daily life.

But this gift needs to be balanced with an even greater gift: the open awareness of the heart. It helps us see how our current concerns and preoccupations fit into the wider flow and meaning of our life. Knowing how and when to release our grip on what might need releasing, we are released.

Without the gift of open awareness, we can quickly become fearful of the unavoidable disappointments and losses that come with the natural precariousness and insecurity of our existence. 

Our inner resistance to this can all too easily veil the open awareness of our heart and close us off from those around us. Seeing and relaxing the grasping mind we are brought back into relationship.

Speaking of our relationship with God, Martin Laird writes:

“We become ever more present to [God’s] Presence only by way of release and receptivity. Not through the calculating grasp of acquisition.”

So too in our relationships with each other. We become present to the presence of others by way of release and receptivity.


We come into relationship through opening.

In the Gospel of Mark, we find Jesus using a small but deeply significant word as he brings healing. (1) A word which has been said to sum up the whole of Christ’s message and all his work. The word is recorded in the language Jesus spoke to draw our attention to it.


The word is “Ephphatha,” which means “Be opened.”

When Jesus was travelling across an area known as Decapolis, a man was brought to him for healing who couldn’t hear and had difficulty speaking. 

Jesus took the man off by himself away from the crowd. In this quieter place Jesus touches the man’s ears and tongue, looks up to heaven, and with a deep sigh says: “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”). And immediately the man began to hear and to speak plainly. 

Notice where the healing takes place. Jesus takes the man away from the crowd to a quieter place where he can be alone with him.

The great fourteenth century teacher Meister Eckhart says that if we are to realise our oneness with God, we have to come away from “the crowd” of our thoughts and feelings and moment-to-moment experience. For awareness of oneness to open and “shine forth truly and clearly,” we must let go of all that is brought in from without through the senses, and open to what is always welling-up from within. (2)

Away from the crowd, in the quieter place, Jesus touches the man and says, “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”).

One effect of the healing is that the man begins to hear and speak plainly. All that had made it difficult to communicate and contributed to his isolation from community is “opened.” The healing is an “opening” to those around him and to the world.

But “Ephphatha” is also an invitation to be “opened” to the deepest truth of who we are, to hear that we are not separate from God or from each other, but one with all creation in the oneness of God.

We can say that this little word sums up the whole of Christ’s message and all his work because he came to “open” us, that we might come into the fullness of relationship.

Each time we meditate, we come away with Christ to a quieter place, to listen to the Word that is ceaselessly spoken in our heart, that we might hear the voice of Love and speak the love we hear in our lives.

Christian meditation - a new way of seeing for a new way of being

If you feel inspired to meditate, you’re very welcome to join one of our free online meditation sessions or read one of our practice guides.

[1] Mark 7:31-37: https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__PW9.HTM

[2] See Sermon 4 in The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, translated by Maurice O’C Walshe (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009), pp 55-61.

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