Tell me, what do you hear?
Currently, a lawn mower is raging in my neighbor’s backyard, a Disney television program is playing in the room next to me, and the fish tank is making a buzzing noise.
What do we listen to in our daily lives? I listen to my e-mails, cell phone, advertisements, voices of pop singers blasting through stereos. Popular music today affects us like a drug. Hit play and are injected with adrenaline. Boom, boom, pow, your love is my drug. We sing about thrift shops, sex, cocaine. Our music today is the trance of technology – the songs get stuck in our heads like electronic beats ruling our minds.
In our industrial society, we no longer hear silence or the birds singing. Scientists have called the shift of sounds in urban areas noise pollution: “displeasing or excessive noise that may disrupt the activity or balance of human or animal life” (Wikipedia). Sitting outside in Baltimore City this week, thinking about the rising tornadoes across the country, this poem came to me:
“almost June heat, sunset. streets buzz to air traffic overhead. clouds gather to swallow the moon, the sound eats my ears.. I hear televisions preaching, guns bang bang banging, lawn mowers groaning, chainsaws screeching, children silenced. bang, bang, drill oil rig steaming, sirens screaming, tornadoes wailing like freight trains. suddenly
the traffic horns stop, the sky turns green, the birds are mute.
it takes a great destruction
for the world to listen to the sky,
Last night, before I fell asleep, I heard a call to listen. Hushed.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
Yesterday, I wrote that we can never fully know God or Jesus, as we look in a mirror dimly. Today, I was reminded that God fully knows us, and speaks to us through the voice of the Spirit. Come, listen in my presence, the Spirit says.
I woke up at 9:09, longing to fall back asleep (even though I went to bed at 9:30 last night. I think I am still in a post-finals coma). But I heard the voice of the Spirit telling me to check my e-mail. I hesitated, afraid to find out if I was being called in to church.
“Hi, Elizabeth, can you meet us at 9:30 this morning in between services?” the e-mail said.
I got dressed and ate breakfast quickly before stepping into the car and finally entering into the hall of my old church. The pastor recognized me even though I had never met her before, and directed me to the person I needed. I spoke with the head of the Missions Committee, Carole, who was eager to hear about my experience in El Salvador. When I told her about the village that hosted us, a flood of memories came back to me about waking to the sun in the countryside, the sound of the children’s voices, the power of Salvadoran worship services. She told me about ways to become involved with Methodist ministry in Latin America and Native American communities. This, alone, was a great reason to follow the Spirit and get out of bed – as I saw the Spirit brings relationships and new visions.
Then, I left the church with ample time to rest in my favorite park before I met my mom. From a distance, I saw my former youth pastor, Monte, whom I had not spoken with in years. He was preparing to perform music with his wife and son in the park.
Go and talk with him, the Spirit said.
I didn’t want to socialize any more – I had just had a long conversation and I didn’t feel actually awake. I also didn’t want to interrupt him playing music. But when the Spirit calls, we must listen.
Here’s what followed: I remembered that I had been thinking of Monte the day earlier, and how he and his wife decided to commit to music ministry even though it required lessening their financial security. He told our youth group that following the Lord, he knew he would be taken care of, and everything would be okay – even if he lived with questions from day to day. He was the first example of someone I knew giving up material security for their calling.
When I told Monte this, I felt a soft pattering in my heart like the words were just flowing from the Spirit. He shared with me encouragement to continue as I pursue ministry this summer, and in the future. It was a moment of connection that I could have taken for granted, but I knew it was Spirit-led and therefore sacred.
I then sat beneath my favorite Willow tree in the park. I found scripture to read about listening and this is the wisdom that I heard.
Listen, and I will guide you.
Listen, and I will direct your ways.
Listen, and I will break the chains that bind you to darkness.
Listen, and I will inscribe your heart
with my Love.
The birds sang, the trees ruffled, and in the park, all of nature was listening and praising!
After a few minutes, I saw my mom’s car approaching, and my mind shifted to a to-do list of what I could do when I got home. But before I could get in the car, my mom pointed me back to where Monte was playing. A crowd of over a hundred people had gathered to worship, without me noticing! My mom asked if I wanted to stay, and I hesitated, knowing she had taken a lot of time out of her morning already.
Then, the people began singing How He Loves by David Crowder.
We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
It was the same song that my friend and sister Becca and I sang at worship many weeks ago, when I broke down into tears at the power of God’s love. I decided to stay, and I walked over to join the crowd.
I felt so suddenly alive when I began singing! I feel that singing brings us closer to God through the collective body of voices rising up together, in one chorus. Song is the fruit of the wind passing over our vocal chords, the Spirit giving sound to our body’s music. Add drums, and we have the sound of our heartbeat. Song is our natural response to listening to the Spirit – and all of nature joins us in making joyful noises. One scientist has made a mash-up of the sound of whales and stars, and together they sing How Great Is Our God.
Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40)
Right as I was about to leave, Monte told a background story to his next song. He spoke about how the Spirit guides us to know God’s love in one another. He said something like this: “Just this morning, a young lady told me that I had an impact on her life years ago, though I didn’t know it at the time. Her words impacted me, and made me realize we can be Jesus’ love to one another.” Then, we sang about the Spirit of Love building community in patience, kindness, and discipline.
I can’t explain why, but I burst into tears. I couldn’t stop crying. The moment was that powerful.
Often, I am too afraid to follow the Spirit because it makes me vulnerable; it forces me to rely upon God and not my own will. It forces me to wake from the trance of society and start listening deeper. The Spirit moves in ways that none of us can predict, yet it always leads us to love.
My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear? – Rumi
Listening to the Spirit requires discipline; we may have to give up our time on the computer to call a friend, or we may have to step away from our desks to give a word of encouragement to our co-worker. We may have to disappoint members of our family, or protest against the government. We may have to give up our careers and comfortable livelihoods. Most of all, we must give up listening to our to-do lists, to advertisements, to the sound of trucks – and start listening to the quiet voice of God within. Listening to the Spirit requires a willingness to surrender.
As I think to this summer, I am praying that I learn to truly listen to the Spirit guiding us in the community of Ghost Ranch. I pray that I listen to how I am called to create Love on this Earth, even if if it calls me to vulnerable and scary places. Even if I have to give up material comforts and security. I pray to be obedient, from the moment I rise to the moment I sleep.
“When you are young, before you accumulate responsibilities, you are freer than most people to choose among all the voices and to answer the one that speaks most powerfully to who you are and to what you really want to do with your life.…To Isaiah, the voice said, “Go,” and for each of us there are many voices that say it, but the question is which one will we obey with our lives, which of the voices that call is to be the one that we answer. No one can say, of course, except each for himself, but I believe that it is possible to say at least this in general to all of us: we should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed.” – Frederick Buechner
As I walked away from the park today, a card picturing St. Francis fell out of my notebook. Read it carefully, the Spirit said. I leave you with its words:
This voice is a gift given to you, for you,
so you will know that you are loved
and known by God.
Amen for the voice of the Spirit. Now tell me, what do you hear?