Everything is so loud now. The cars that go by on the street vibrate with the “Boom-Boom-Boom” of the huge sub-woofers in the trunks. At home, the television is adjusted to a volume that enables my ears to discern the conversation between the characters in a program, when abruptly, we’re at a commercial break and the volume is suddenly blaring so loudly that I jump with alarm. In my store, the customers come in to try out instruments, asking, “May I plug it in?” I answer in the affirmative and help with the amplifier connections, knowing that I will regret it very soon. And, I’m not disappointed, as the volume begins at an agreeable level and gradually rises through the middle decibel ranges where conversation is still possible, and finally on up to a painfully loud degree on par with sitting in the wall seats at a NASCAR event. This is especially true if there is more than one person playing an instrument; each one vying to be the dominant voice in the musical conversation.
Even the trend in restaurant design is to make the dining rooms alive with sound. It is no longer in vogue to have cozy, private corners to dine in peacefully, but we must be in the middle of the action, with cooks yelling out at each other as they mix, and fry, and bake. The room is so live that you can hear the conversation of the couple on the other side of the establishment as they discuss what her boss did to make her angry today. And the hustle and bustle of the wait staff! Back and forth, to and from the open kitchen again and again, with trays and dishes and plastic desserts.
On the weekend, we go to church, which was once a fortress against the cacophony of the outside world. Now the seven foot grand piano, designed with a powerful voice to fill a concert hall with beautiful music, has a microphone installed so that we can amplify it. Where we who are singers used to stand close and listen to each other to achieve an ensemble sound, now we huddle around monitor speakers and hope that the technician in the sound booth has our microphone turned up enough so the crowd can hear us.
In every sector of our lives, each voice vies to be heard, the tumult growing ever louder, and the individual clamoring voices are soon lost in the din. It seems that none of us will be content to stand silent and wait to be recognized, but must force our way into the conversation. Every syllable, even every musical note is intended, not to contribute, but to dazzle; not to comfort, but to impress. Even when there is no sound and we sit at our computers to communicate, the way to be noticed IS TO YELL with our upper case letters. None of us wants to be a wallflower, but unfortunately none of us will be heard in the resulting confusion.
Years ago, I sat on the stage at a Christmas concert, having completed my part of the brass ensemble prelude. The organist moved to the huge pipe organ and began his part of the musical meditation–and the crowd noise grew. He played a few more notes and the crowd talked louder. We assumed that the man would simply finish his piece through the accompanying hubbub. Suddenly, the music ceased in mid-phrase. The organist turned off his light and moved to a chair in the choir loft and sat down facing the audience. For a few seconds, the crowd noise continued unabated, but gradually it quieted down until finally, you could have heard a pin drop in that huge crowd of over a thousand people. After a moment of this quiet, the musician stood and returned to the organ bench, turning on his music light and completing the piece he had prepared for the occasion. The crowd sat, speechless and attentively still, until he was finished.
Why didn’t I think of that? I would have continued playing, increasing the air flow to the reeds and adding pipes until they couldn’t help but listen. The problem with that approach is that what the audience heard wouldn’t be at all like the music the composer intended to be experienced. The distorted, roaring product presented would have been a far cry from the beauty of the piece as it was written. And everyone would have walked away poorer–the organist in anger, the audience in distaste. No, his method achieved exactly what should have occurred in the first place; the authoritative voice of the beautiful instrument speaking to the quiet anticipating ears and hearts of the hearers.
Why don’t we take a little time to listen for the Voice today? Be still, and know… Come away from the babble, the confused pandemonium of the noisy streets and workplaces, and sit quietly for just a few moments.
“The sound of ‘gentle stillness’ after all the thunder and wind have passed will be the ultimate Word from God.”
(Jim Elliott~American missionary & martyr~1927-1956)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
A repeat appearance of a post first published 5/19/2011.