Beethoven first noticed difficulties with his hearing when he was about 28. By the age of 31 he lost about 60 percent of his hearing and became totally deaf when he was about 44 or 45. Beethoven’s worst fear came true. The genius of a sound, the man who gave the gift of the most beautiful symphonies to the world became the prisoner of silence and seclusion. This is precisely when he composed ‘The Creatures of Prometheus Ballet,’ which was based on the mythological character of Prometheus and his rebellion against the injustice and suffering of mortals in the hands of Olympian Gods. Beethoven’s soul was clearly troubled by the injustice and pain in his own life.
The composer isolated himself in his countryside house. His personal letters reveal deep, dark state of mind, suicide contemplation and search for ways to end his misery. Beethoven was brought up in a Catholic family, but he did not strongly associate his spirituality and faith with the Catholic Church. He certainly believed in God and found his communion with the Creator in music and creativity. Beethoven’s only hope for survival was to be able to compose again, play and be able to feel his music again.
Soon he found the way. He started to use an English piano which produced tiny vibrations radiating through the frame of the instrument. He learned to rely on these tiny vibrations to grasp the qualities of the sound and get a sense of what the musical score sounded like. Beethoven even modified the piano and installed a zinc cover that intensified the vibrations. Though still unable to hear his music, now he could feel its vibrations in his body. That was enough to make him feel alive again, feel that there was something to live for, hope and fight for. He started composing again and created musical marvels of unmatched beauty, grace and depth such as his 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th symphonies to name a few.
I believe it was through the tiny vibrations of his piano that God reached out, touched and sustained Beethoven. I believe that his work is a vivid reminder and a testament that not only God is present in our suffering, but also always finds ways to reach out and speak to us in ways that we can feel and comprehend.
We see all this powerfully manifested in today’s Gospel reading. When Jesus was passing through the region of Decap’olis, the people of the town brought a deaf and mute person to him and begged him to lay his hand on the man and bless him. Little did they know that they were about to receive so much more than they asked for as they witnessed their friend being healed and restored.
What is especially stunning in this story is the means by which Christ reached out and communicated to this man. Since the deaf and mute man could neither hear him nor speak, Christ communicates to him through touch and body language. He places his fingers in his ears, touches his tongue, he gazes into heaven and groans, feeling the pain and suffering of this person. Then, with a single word, “Eph′phatha” (be opened) Christ lifts all pain and struggle from his life and grants him complete recovery.
Worse than any pain we can experience, worse than any struggle we might encounter is the silence of heaven and the absence of God in our suffering. According to geographical clues in the Gospel of St. Mark Jesus traveled some 120 miles to reach Decap′olis. There was absolutely no rational explanation why anyone would travel to Galilee, which was only 16 miles away, through this route. I think part of the reason Jesus took this route was to pass through Decap′olis, meet and heal this suffering man. This story is a reminder that our loving and compassionate Lord will travel any distance to find us, hold and heal us. When he does so, he will speak to our souls in a manner and ways that we can hear and understand. There is no other time in life that God is close to us than when we are in pain and alone.