From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
Let the hearing of the Holy Spirit be in these ears. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
In our time we might think of listening to God as being something we do at a level that is internal. We conceive of it as a mental, intuitive, or imaginative exercise. Not our older brother Fursa. He offers his ears. It will be through the physical work of hearing and listening that Fursa expects to discern the words of God. This must mean that in the sounds of nature and technology, in the speech of others, in the reading of the Bible or the reciting of memorized verses, Fursa expects somehow to hear the very voice of God. From amid the mixture of this world of sound, Fursa seeks the alertness to recognize those moments when the inspiration and guidance of God are revealing themselves.
To Ezekiel God said, “Son of man, stand up. I wish to speak with you.” In praying with Fursa we echo back this divine desire and say, “Son of man, I wish to hear you speaking.”
The writer to the Hebrews testifies to God’s untiring desire to communicate with human beings. “In the past, God spoke,” he says, “in many and various ways. But in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, the exact representation of God’s being.”
In Fursa’s time, long, long before the days of the mass-produced, printed Bible, the Scriptures were still encountered as a collection or library of books. Within that canon of writings, Celtic Christians gravitated especially to the texts of the Gospels and the Psalms, immersing their minds in those inspired words. In order that he might do this, we note that Fursa pledges not his eyes for reading but his ears for hearing.
This is because, for the ancient Celt, the Scriptures were something to be read with the mouth and heard by the ears. Even when reading alone, the believer would speak the sacred words aloud. Sacred reading was not done inwardly in the head. Perhaps in our day we think of silent reading as being cleverer because it is faster. However, the goal of reading Scripture is not to be fast but to let the Scriptures sink deep in our memory and awareness. For the Celtic believer, Scripture reading used hands, eyes mouth, and ears.
So, when Fursa came to Holy Scripture, his ears heard what his mouth spoke. His mouth spoke what his eyes read. His eyes read what the hands of scribes had written. The hands of scribes copied what apostles had reported. Apostles reported what their ears had heard, their eyes had seen, and their hands had touched – as John the Beloved reminds us in his letter.
Through the centuries, many physical faculties have needed to cooperate to bring the word of God to Fursa in the seventh century and to us today. This hearing of God’s thoughts is a physical thing indeed.
Whether through this physical relay of sacred communication, or in the conversation of friends and strangers, or in the wordless voices of God’s creation, Fursa is praying for the alertness to discern perhaps a certain amplification or insistence in his hearing in those moments when the Spirit of God might be speaking, not to the world or church at large, but to him alone.
Believer, stand up: the Lord wishes to speak with you.