The Sounds of Silence
For five years, I was a firefighter in Abbotsford. I still get goose bumps when sirens wail by my house! The job required an annual hearing test. So, I was placed in a small soundproof booth and fitted with headphones. I was instructed to press a button when I heard a beep. At first it was easy. But that changed quickly. The beeps eventually reached a faintness that I had to guess at. I was randomly pressing the button hoping to time it right. I went as silent as I could get and concentrated for my cue. Since the booth and headphones were state of the art, they eliminated all outside distractions. But there were noises other than the beeps which I did not expect. I could hear my heartbeat and breathing. The sound of my very life became distinct and inescapable. The experience quickly morphed from being a hearing test to picture of prayer. I don’t usually hear my heart and lungs. Neither do you. They work silently throughout our days. In fact, if we do hear them it’s a concern! Heart murmurs, coughs or wheezing are sounds of sickness. Normally, the soft sounds of my life are discerned only when I am deeply silent and still. The same is true for prayer.
Prayer is a discipline that requires a measure of isolation and silence. We calm our lives in the secrecy of our closet. There, we spill our souls to God and allow thanks, concerns and praise to flow. But prayer is not a monologue. This is also a time to listen for His Voice. Like some of you, I find that hard for a couple of reasons. First, I talk better than I listen. Second, God’s Voice can be difficult to hear. God speaks with various intensities and at selective times. He can resonate with clarity, but often God’s whisper is easy to miss or mistake. Like my breathing, God’s Voice is often louder when my soul is sick. But in the routine of life, I can be deaf to the tone of His Spirit - unless I cultivate stillness and silence. There I can discern the Voice of God.
We all have the clear text of His written Word. (That is a grace!) The written Word is enlivened by the Spirit to speak truth to our hearts. So we have a Book to read and a Voice to discern. I don’t need much silence to read. I need a habit of silence to listen. If we haven’t cultivated such a habit through the decades, our senior years offer us renewed opportunity. We may have fewer distractions and enlarged space to be fully present with God. What we view as isolation, may be an invitation. God welcomes us to a closeted focus to speak and to listen. Here is the irony of prayer. I ask God to be louder. He invites me to be quieter. In that space, His Voice is heard.