23rd Sunday OT Yr B 2015
(Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center)
I will never forget watching The Miracle Worker movie as a youngster. Some of you may have never seen it. It’s based on the autobiography of Helen Keller – a young girl blind and deaf from an infant case of Scarlet Fever. Helen’s intense despair and frustration began to lead to violent outbursts and a heartbreaking retreat into herself; her parents made arrangements to have Anne Sullivan (herself nearly blind from a childhood illness) come to companion her, and to try to teach her how to communicate. Ms. Sullivan’s tough love and patience throughout the movie made a real impression on a young Fr. Alan – at least on the inside. For appearance’s sake, I had to pretend that watching this old people’s movie was a drag. The movie was, after all, made in the 60’s – what self-respecting child in the 80’s would want to watch such an old movie?
As a side note – college students – I know I now probably qualify as old – that’s OK. I can mostly handle that. But do yourselves a favor – watch this ‘old people’s movie’ – ‘The Miracle Worker’. OK? Trust me…its worth it…but I digress…
The climax of that movie kept coming to me this week. Ms. Sullivan is nearly at her wit’s end – young Helen is becoming harder and harder to manage, and the family is on the verge of complete despair. Watching the film, you can feel Helen’s pain – her oppressive shell of darkness and silence – you can feel the prison of solitude she’s locked within. Helen, on the verge of complete and total despair – Anne, refusing to quit showing love and determined the break through the blackness and silence of Helen’s prison.
Anne nearly drags Helen with her outside to collect water from the cistern. (This was back in the day when water came from a hand pump outside that you pumped over and over again, pulling it up from the bowels of the earth.) Anne shoves Helen’s hands under the spout and begins to pump – Helen struggles – her frustration at fever pitch – her despair threatening to plunge her into the depths of aloneness for good. Anne pumps frantically with one hand, speaking sternly, forcing Helen’s hands to hold the pitcher under the spout. “W-A-T-E-R; Water! It has a name!” Using her other hand to spell in sign language as she works…determined…not giving up…not willing to lose Helen to that lonely darkness… “W-A-T-E-R; Water! It has a name!!!”…and just when we begin to wonder if all is lost…
…light comes crashing in…Helen tosses aside the pitcher and uses both hands to feel the trickle run down her fingers from the spout…and she cries out, muffled, her first attempt at a word… “water…water? WATER!!!” She frantically pounds the spout – realizing for the first time that water has a name, and beginning to understand…the darkness beginning to shatter…the bars of solitude broken! “WATER!!!” She spells it back in sign to Anne…and then joy comes crashing in! She falls to her knees, pounding it hard, and reaching out her hand…Anne spells “G-R-O-U-N-D; ground” – Helen spells it back – “Yes – GROUND!!!” Frantic now in freedom and in joy – she runs to everything she can find realizing that she is not alone – that the world around her is knowable: P-U-M-P, pump! T-R-E-E, tree! Yes!!! S-T-E-P, step!!! B-E-L-L, bell!!! Yes! M-O-M-M-A, P-A-P-A, Momma, Papa – she knows – she KNOWS!!!!
Friends – you and I are not so different than young Helen sometimes. Blinded to the beauty and depth of God’s love. Deaf to pleading to let Him love us more completely, to live our lives in the freedom of His embrace. Our sin and our struggle very much like young Helen’s outrage and despair that sometimes seems to be closing in around us. Will I ever get it all done? Will I ever stop hurting from missing my loved ones who have died? Can I ever overcome this sin? Will I ever enjoy living this life? Will I ever find someone to love me? Why do I feel so all alone? Where is God? What do I have to do to please Him? Will there ever be any rest? Even with perfect speech and sight, we’re sometimes as deaf and mute as the man they brought to Jesus, who – like Anne Sullivan – broke through his prison…and brought him into freedom.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” Jesus says in Revelation. Just like Anne Sullivan – never giving up – never willing to surrender you to being overcome and overwhelmed by whatever prison of silence or loneliness or overwhelming emotion or mountain of work to overcome. If you’re here today, it’s because in some way, you know that Jesus is there, and that He can speak to you and break through whatever prison you feel locked within today. But sometimes it all piles up again, and we begin to wonder, to struggle, to despair…
What did Helen do that finally led to that amazing breakthrough? Somehow, inside, she finally stopped resisting what her teacher was doing – she finally stopped fighting and turned toward her teacher to try to listen. Even completely deaf – she found a way to let the ears of her heart be opened. How are you fighting Jesus in your life today? How can you give up that fight and turn to Him, stop resisting what He’s doing with you – and try to listen to Him?
What did the deaf man do that led to his healing in today’s Gospel? He let others bring Him to the feet of the One who loved Him – and then he let Jesus heal him. How can you let the ministry of the Church, your family and friends, even this celebration of the Eucharist – how can you let all that bring you to Jesus in a new way today – to meet Him here on this altar – and let Jesus heal you, break through the despair, and open your eyes and ears a bit wider today – so that you might hear His voice, and break even more completely into His love and freedom?
Friends – open your hearts! Let the ears of your soul be opened! Look – here He comes – here – on this altar! Be strong, fear not! Here is your God – He comes to save you! Your eyes will be opened – your ears will be cleared! Whatever is lame in your life will begin to leap! Whatever is mute in your heart will begin to sing! Whatever is dry and parched in your journey will be watered with love and spring forth new life! Your thirst will be quenched.
Listen to Jesus…find Him here today…watch what happens when you hear Him speak to you: Be opened today! Ephphatha!!!