It’s 8 am on a Tuesday morning, and the world outside is already in full motion. The chains on the gate rattle, the cars repeatedly run over the metal plate in the road, and the lawn mowers add a steady humming sound to the cacophony.
Every Tuesday, I experience this—it is my morning at home, and I wake up eager to spend it in reading or writing for my graduate studies. But every Tuesday, I am surprised by the clamor just outside my apartment; some days I drown it out with Bach, the melody of a single violin filling my small study.
This aversion to chaotic noise is a curse—most people who live in Houston don’t hear it after a while, but my ears were trained in an area far away from the din of the city, or even of other people. I would often wake up to coyotes howling, cats fighting, a mockingbird outside my window. Listening was important in those days: is that a rattlesnake or a sprinkler? Is that our dog growling at the sheep, or an intruder? But listening in my home today seems impossible: instead, I work to muffle the babel that surrounds me.
This past weekend, I had a conversation with a professor, confessing my confusion when it comes to the future. It has obsessed my thoughts since I entered graduate school: what does life look like after I finish my degree? And though I’m only three months in, this concern for the future haunts me in a way I’ve never known before. Perhaps it’s part of the crisis that I knew would happen when I stepped out of the classroom for a season.
But the professor reminded me of something I was forgetting to do: listen. In drowning out the din of confusion through study and distraction, I am adding more noise to my thoughts, not creating space for God to speak. Am I merely filling my thoughts with the white noise of distraction? How am I to be faithful to His calling if I cannot even hear His voice?
Noise comes in different forms: it is not limited to physical sounds. Recently, my noise has consisted of social media, arguments surrounding the election, and even my desire to know more. But as my ears long to be free of chaotic clamor, especially when I read or write, my soul is filled with longing, too—it needs to listen to sounds that will bring life, not noise that deadens.
Listening is a habit, cultivated by repeated practice. And the moment of Sabbath Tuesday encourages this practice: in the midst of the weekly commotion, do I take the time to pause and listen? I’m turning on my Bach music now, flooding my ears with a life-giving sound; I’m turning away from noise that crowds my mind, filling it instead with the music of my morning prayers, pausing to listen between each line. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Berry poems, from his 2011 Sabbath collection:
Sit and be quiet. In a while
the red berries, now in shadow,
will be picked out by the sun.