One Lenten season a few years back, I decided to give up noise. Yes, that’s right – noise. This may seem like a ridiculous sacrifice during such a sacred journey. In some ways, it was. I guess it all stemmed from the feeling that the world around me was too dissident and was distracting me from hearing the Spirit within me. So I pledged during Lent to take fifteen minutes a day, plug my ears and sit quietly and pay attention to my interior workings. The honest truth is that this was much harder than I ever expected. Living at that time amid an urban neighborhood with tightly packed houses and shops and many narrow streets, the sounds of city life did not disappear completely. Even with my ears plugged while I sat on my bed, I could still hear the muffled tones of sirens, the rev of a bus engine or motorcycle, a dog barking or whatever other city antics continued to get my attention. My meditative attempts to reflect on what the Spirit within me was trying to tell me seemed to always be redirected to what the world was declaring all around me. My Lenten practice quickly became a dreaded challenge rather than an encouraging opportunity to go deeper with Christ. I found myself resenting not only the sounds of the world around me but the chatter in my own head space too. Why wasn’t I able to shut out the noise? Then I realized, maybe I’m not supposed to. Contemplative prayer is a progressive practice that involves many layers of listening and being quiet. I didn’t have to categorize “hearing” into all or nothing terms. In fact, there seems to be something profound in hearing the message behind the sounds all around me as well as in me
What I hear (or allow myself to hear) can be directly connected to what I understand or perceive is happening around me and in me. Mis-hearing something/someone certainly impacts perception and has mis-hap ramifications. As I sit and type this, the sounds around me prove what season it is and how the seasons are changing. Whether I want them to or not, they are. Am I willing to acknowledge how life changes and will I celebrate the new stage that is presenting itself to me for a purposeful effect? Yes, as I type this and pause to form my next thought, I can hear the sound of geese flying together, signifying that migration is occurring. I can hear the sound of dried leaves scooting across the ground; and I can hear the scraping sound of a rake pulling the fallen leaves into a pile somewhere. I can hear the sound of the mail truck parking, the side door opening and the postal worker readying to make the rounds to deliver today’s mail. These sounds are all about accepting the present of what is now as well as preparation for what is to come next. I can’t ignore these sounds if I want to understand what life is about.
Listening is about acknowledging a relationship is real – is really happening. Shutting out the sounds from the world around me rejects that I have any relationship with the space where God has placed me. The Spirit within me speaks to me to listen to what is going on in the world, so I can respond accordingly – according to the relevance of what Jesus would say or do. If I ignore the reality of what is happening in the world, I miss out on the reality of being Jesus. It can start simply by paying attention to what I hear right here, right now and praising and/or praying in response to what I hear. Jesus talked a lot about listening while He was here on earth. His journey to the cross and out of the tomb was God’s response to the world’s plea for redemption. Jesus now prompts us to pay attention to the seasonal sounds of people and places – in order to respond with timely care and to keep an ear out for when He will return to earth again. I’m listening. I’m asking the Spirit to help me interpret what I hear. It is important to take time to sit still and listen as much as it is imperative to get up and speak. There are seasons to our day, week, year etc., calling us to do this in turn. As long as the world keeps turning, there will always be noise. And as long as I keep asking the Spirit to help me listen, I’ll be able to discern the sounds, discern the seasons. I’m not advocating for hyper-vigilance in this reflection – for such over-sensitivity to sounds has its own message to be discerned and responded to with care and comfort. Ears that experience extended and extreme decibel stimulation can become disabled and unable to listen accurately for the long haul. I’m referring to acutely listening to the outward and inward voices that seek to gain our allegiance and choosing to predominately listen to the voice that proclaims life. Jesus came to bring harmony to the dissident world – starting in my own heart. The multi-dimensional relationships that exist within me and around me are all connected and can become a competing and cumbersome chatterbox to deal with, if I don’t allow the Spirit/Jesus to be the filter through which I make sense of what I hear.
- In the woods; photo by Jamie Wasson 2014
- Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila
- On Poetry by T. S. Eliot