Listening

We are soothed by the voices of those we love.

Have you ever been on stage—acting, dancing or singing—and heard the laughter, or the even throat-clearing, of one of your family members? Or, have you ever been standing on a ball field playing your position when you suddenly heard the familiar cheers of your mom or dad?

Perhaps, you have been walking down the street when you heard your name being called. Even before you turned around to see the source of the voice you knew exactly whom that voice belonged to.

Hearing voices we know in the midst of a crowd is comforting. Why are familiar voices so comforting?

The world is filled with a lot of noise: both internal and external.

Internal noise is comprised of your physical needs and thoughts. For example, three days ago one of my bottom molars was extracted. Before the offending fracture was discovered by the Endodontist, I endured three days of the most torturous pain I have even experienced. The pain was at times the only thing I could focus on. I did not have pain. I was inside pain. The internal noise of the pain screamed above all other thoughts, effectively drowning out all other stimulus. I needed full focus to endure the misery.

Internal noise can also be characterized by distracting thoughts.   For example, if I am trying to write a blog and I am distracted by thoughts of an argument I had with my husband this morning, the internal noise of my emotional reaction to our argument pulls my focus away from writing and onto our relationship.

External noise can be heard in your physical environment: lawn mowers, music that is being played too loudly or the college students who live behind your house raucously using their swimming pool as a frat house. External noise can also be visual. When I teach Public Speaking I remind my students to dress in a way that is mostly neutral to the eyes of the audience: nothing bearing words or graphics and certainly nothing showing too much leg or bare midriff. This is not in any way meant to hinder the students’ self-expression but the boundaries are meant to help focus the audience on the words of the speaker, not his/her body or attire.

As we walk through life, this noise from within and without marches in a long, constant parade weaving in and out of our ears, and circling back through our minds and emotions.

There are ways in which we can quiet both internal and external noise.

When my mind, will and emotions are feeling particularly boisterous inside myself I often choose to light a candle, practice deep breathing, and focus on Jesus: who He is and what He has done in my life and for the world at large. When I feel my thoughts veering from Him I have a word I say that brings me back to focusing on Jesus. The word I usually use is “hope” but you can use any word, really. The point of the candle is to focus on the light: not as a metaphor but as a practical source of redirecting my thought back to one place. The point of the breathing is physiological in that proper breathing opens the blood vessels and helps release physical tension. The point of meditating on Jesus is to acknowledge that He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent and, to use an embarrassingly inadequate phrase, “God is bigger than me or my noise.”

When my environment is flustering my focus, I choose to shut out as much of the external roar as I can. If I am at home I will close the curtains, turn off my cell phone, play instrumental music on my desktop computer and listen to it through my ear buds. If I am in public, I will usually use my instrumental music and ear buds as a sound filter. Certainly, we have all encountered such noise and we all have our own versions of makeshift soundproof rooms on-the-go.

Noise is inevitable. Unless you choose to remove yourself from society altogether, à la Henry David Thoreau, you will be accosted by a streaming clamor of commotion: ideas, debates, opinions, temptations, noisy neighbors, tooth aches, worry, doubt, fear, arguments, anger, offenses, mistakes . . . etc.

In the midst of the noise, listen for the voices of those who love you. Those who will build you up, not tear you down. Listen for your true fans: the ones who cheer you on not because of what you do but because they appreciate who you are. Attune your ears to those who will tell you the truth with gentleness and respect, not vomit empty flattery into your ears, effectively filling your mind with bacteria and disease. Turn your ear toward those who do not add to the noise but, instead, offer a safe place to peacefully be yourself, contemplate and experience the joy of unconditional support.

Just as you love to hear familiar voices in the crowd, others are emboldened by your voice too. Lift your voice in other people’s theatres, arenas and on their neighborhood streets. Be a voice that comforts, encourages and cheers others on. It is easy to be a cheerleader. Sometimes we forget that our voices matter so we keep them silent. But forget that nonsense! Make some noise! Let your friends, loved ones—your tribe—know you are there.

The following sonnet is entitled Through The Noise because to me it represents a picture of following God’s voice even in the midst of a thousand competing noises: both internal and external.

 

Through The Noise.

There is a wood through which a chorus swells,

The mouths therein are linked upon the trees

To leaves whose waving employ bids farewell

On winded swells of bellowing reprise.

The song I hear is as the wood itself

Foreboding in its measures and in keys

A minor tilt as crooked as a shelf

Upon which heartbeats tumble and then freeze.

To step and step, one foot and then the next,

Thus trav’ling to a rhythm played by choice-

The deepest goal when through the trees perplexed-

I journey through the noise to hear one voice.

Among the tunes sung in and through, around

My footsteps halt to hear your name resound.

Jill Szoo Wilson

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