Sounds, silence and the search for God

I’m working with the sense of sound/hearing this week and the ways we employ and celebrate that sense in our search for the Divine.

Obviously not all of us hear or hear to the same degree. To that end, I’m afraid churches aren’t always very hospitable to the hearing impaired. Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to this set of lyrics by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette put to the music of  NETTLETON (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”). The last stanza reads as follows (I especially love the acknowledgment and affirmation of the third line in bold):

Bless the talents we are bringing, for we offer you our best.
If our gifts are not for singing may our joyful noise be blest.
If our world is ever silent may we sign to you above. Touched by grace, may each one present offer back your song of love.


You can see the full text of this hymn here: Text by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

The other thing I’m thinking about this week is that sometimes the most treasured and sought-after sound is silence. I was reminded of this while attending the opening performance of the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra “Heroes and Landscapes.” After the intermission and right before the performance of Beethoven’s “Eroica”  music director Bruce Sorrell gently and yet assertively encouraged the audience to hold their applause until after the fourth movement. I regret not writing down exactly what he said, but basically he thanked the audience for being enthusiastic during the first half of the performance. (Unfortunately sometimes this applause occurred between movements which is a big no-no.) Sorrell went on to talk about silence being “golden” at times and that the silence between movements is part of the beauty of the piece. “Waiting until the end of the fourth movement to applause will be worth it,” he said. It was indeed worth it. Perhaps this is why we sometimes have the following phrase in our church bulletin: “Please save expression of appreciation until community building time.” It’s a way of encouraging a moment of golden silence.

There are many scripture texts about sounds, listening, and silence. The one I have chosen to work with is found in John 10: “My sheep hear my voice.” Here people are compared to sheep (not the brightest of animals) who may or may not listen for God’s voice. As I consider this text I find myself wondering:  For those of us who do have the sense of hearing, what are the sounds we associate with God/Divine? Or what are the sounds that we associate with freedom, joy, grace, mercy, compassion, etc? And what would it be like to listen with our whole being for those sounds of freedom, joy and justice?


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2 Responses to Sounds, silence and the search for God

  1. michimusic says:

    truly lovely. A painter makes his art on canvas. A musician paints on silence. As the tao te ching says, it is the space in the middle that makes the bowl useful.

  2. michimusic says:

    Reblogged this on Michi's Adventures in Blogging and commented:
    this is lovely. A favorite quote of mine about sound was “Look up and listen to the ground” – from the acoustic ecology listserv, 1999.

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