Listening in Layers

We are awash in a sea of sounds. The waves roll around us and over us every second of every day.

And yet, we notice so few of those sounds. We have an amazing ability to keep our conscious mind untouched by most of the swirling waves of noise. Men are particularly good at this, especially during football season. Teens excel at it all year long. Under normal conditions, it’s a helpful skill: it sifts through all the surplus of sound to find those that most matter – a cell phone ring, a timer’s beep, a cry of a baby, the voice of a loved one asking a question. Well, except during a football game.

But sometimes, we need to practice hearing all the sounds. It’s an exercise in observation, but with the ear, not the eye. It’s tough to do without practice.

Recently, I tried this with a group of sixteen kindergarteners in the woods. We sat on logs, closed our eyes, and just listened. How strange it was to have silence. (Especially surrounded by five-year-olds!) At first, all I could hear was the wind stirring the high treetops. But then, beneath that hiss was a softer sound of leaves falling gently onto the forest floor. Then in the distance, a single bird called – and what a striking sound it was in the quiet: as sweet and crisp as a bite of a fall apple.

I did this exercise again before church started one Sunday. With eyes closed, I listened to the hubbub of the congregation around me. It was such a bubbling blend of voices; I wondered if it was a small sample of what God hears in a rising tide of a million prayers. How awesome it is that he can sift through those sounds!

Listening is a skill that’s being lost in our fast-paced, high-tech world. Car radios, iPods, and cell phones give us a portable racket. Every moment can be filled with noise if we choose. Sometimes we need to choose quietness. And in that silence, we need to listen -- to tune into those still, small voices that lap gently against our conscious minds, just waiting to be noticed.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter