Sunday, August 3, 2008

Finding Silence in the Kingdom of Noise

In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis makes an interesting observation about noise in a fictional letter between a senior devil and a new tempter:

"Music and silence - how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father entered Hell ... no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise - Noise, that grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile - Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anywhere like it."

Noise - as described above, is more than just a loud cacophony of discordant sounds. It is all thoughts and distractions which make it impossible for us to hear the sweeter and more important melodies of life that constantly surround us. This noise is found in many forms and, interestingly enough, assumes the quality of being noise not so much by the sound it makes as much as by the setting it is found in. What might be beautiful and uplifting in one setting becomes noise in another.

In my own life, several examples come to mind. When I have been surrounded by unsettling circumstances, listening to classical music or hymns calms me down and helps restore a sense of peace in my life. If I am trying to study something or read my scriptures, the same music that calms me down distracts me and makes it impossible to get the in depth knowledge I am seeking. I also enjoy watching movies and find that they relax me, but if I watch a movie on Saturday night it makes keeping my thoughts focused on spiritual things almost impossible on Sunday.

For some time now I have been bothered by the effect that noise has in my life and the way that it seems to invade my thoughts regardless of where I am or what I am doing. This morning a song that I haven't heard in years suddenly started playing in my mind and I have had a devil of a time getting it to shut up! It is not a bad song, it just isn't what I want to be hearing in my head on Sunday. A couple of weeks ago I had a similar experience in the Temple. An innocuous song I had heard earlier in the day kept playing over and over in my mind when I should have been focused on where I was and what I was doing.

One of the more insidious aspects of noise is that it becomes addicting. Whenever I get into a car I turn on the radio. When I get home either the kids are already watching TV or I turn it on myself. In my office I like to have music playing in the background. If a newspaper or magazine shows up in my office I have a hard time focusing until I have read them. The experiences of distraction I have had seem to illustrate just how consistently I allow noise to be a part of my surroundings.

All of this seems innocent enough, but what is it costing me? When noise becomes my natural environment, I struggle to hear the whisperings of the spirit. If I favor noise to human interaction, I am missing out on the conversations and experiences that will bind me closer to my family. And, the more immersed I am in noise, the more my inner core becomes attuned to the frequencies of the world. When I stop to think about all this I am convinced that noise is one of the many subtle tools that Satan uses to create distance between us and our Heavenly Father.

All of us are like the soundboard of a piano, reverberating and amplifying the sounds that we are associated with. By putting ourselves in close proximity to our Heavenly Father in our thoughts, actions, and surroundings, we can tune ourselves to the appropriate heavenly pitch we are meant to echo and reflect. Fortunately for us, these divine influences surround us every bit as much as the noise does. The difference is that we must be properly tuned to hear and experience them. Once we learn to identify these uplifting influences they can become so powerful that they eliminate the distractions of worldly noise. (The difference between the sounds of Heaven and the sounds of Hell are that one relies on true power and the other on volume.)

To be properly tuned we need to recognize the role of noise in our everyday life and eliminate its influence as much as possible. This doesn't mean that we can never listen to our favorite music or watch movies again (unless they drive the Spirit away by their very nature). It means recognizing when these influences become noise and then being prudent with our time and resources. The natural result of this exercise will be to fill our time with worthwhile activities that are more in line with what our Heavenly Father wants for us, and this is the second half of the solution. These worthwhile activities will expose us to heaven's sounds and make them easier to hear and recognize.

If we do not eliminate noise from our life we risk becoming as Laman and Lemuel who were described as "past feeling". On the other hand, as we eliminate noise we will begin to recognize that our Heavenly Father is not an absent parent. He is always there for us, as long as we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. We will then join the ranks of those who realize that "every bush is aflame with the light of God, but only those with eyes to see take off their shoes."


RhondaLue said...

Great Post Paul!

I am especially sensitive to "noise" (ask anyone in my family) and try to limit or eliminate it as much as possible. It amazes me in so many circumstances that a group of people will continue to get louder and louder to be heard over the noise instead of cutting down the noise and taking the volume down a notch or two.

I remember being taught in young women's that the spirit can't get through to you if you have constant distractions. Quiet time is good and we need that time to ponder, reflect, and listen to the spirit. I CHERISH my quiet time and always wish for more!

Jed said...

Paul, your post is talk-worthy. While I am quite guilty of constantly creating 'noise'around me, I too have sought the deafening roar of silence. In my calling, there is in particular one setting that just drains my spirit like no other. I try to take some appropriate time before these events to 'silence' my surroundings. At least to the best of my ability. While being alone with my thoughts is scary in and of itself, the spirit definitely is found quicker and easier than when you have lots of external, worldly noise.

I appreciate your thoughts and feel to maybe try and limit the noise more often.

The Reidhead Family said...

Very inspiring. My children often call me a music and TV hater because I ask them to turn it off or turn in down. I don't mind music or the TV but it's the noise that gets to me and it doesn't allow me to think.