A little something from the archive tonight.
Each day is a tide and it washes over me, body and soul, in one fell swoop. I stagger under the weight of time…aching with the heavy of each moment. On Sunday, I preach about prayer, and I am preaching to myself.
“I read somewhere that the average American Christian only prays four minutes a day,” I say. And quickly I try to tabulate my own minutes invested.
I cannot still the tide. Each day leaves me wrung out and there is no energy, no creativity, no flood of words to harness.
Gordon Hempton, a self-proclaimed acoustic ecologist, says that silence is an endangered species. In an interview with radio host Krista Tippett , he describes real quiet as presence—not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise.
I grew up thinking that I was a listener, except on my way to graduate school one time, I simply pulled over making the long drive from Seattle, Washington, to Madison, Wisconsin, pulled over in a field to get some rest and a thunderstorm rolled over me. While I lay there and the thunder echoed through the valley and I could hear the crickets, I just simply took it all in. And it’s then I realized that I had a whole wrong impression of what it meant to actually listen. I thought that listening meant focusing my attention on what was important even before I had heard it and screening out everything that was unimportant even before I had heard it…In other words, I had been paying a lot of attention to people, but I really hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to what is all around me. It was on that day that I really discovered what it means to be alive as another animal in a natural place. That changed my life. I had one question and that was how could I be 27 years old and have never truly listened before? I knew, for me, I was living life incredibly wrong, so I abandoned all my plans, I dropped out of graduate school, I moved to Seattle, took my day job as a bike messenger and only had one goal, and that was to become a better listener.
Hempton has traveled all over the world to record what he calls “the last quiet places”. Rain forests, prairies, volcanoes, ocean shorelines, islands—all these have a language that he has learned to speak.
In my harried and time-stretched world I listen to his words with a tiny ache. There are no rain forests in this world I live in. The closest mountains are a good day’s drive away. And the ocean? Too far. But then, Mr. Hempton says something that speaks to my heart.
… we have a very discreet bandwidth of supersensitive hearing and that’s between 2.5 and 5 kilohertz in the resident frequencies of the auditory canal,” he tells host Krista Tippett. “Is there something in our ancestors’ environment that matches our peak hearing human sensitivity? Because most of what I’m saying right now, except for the “s” sounds and the high-pitched sounds, falls well below that range. And, indeed, there’s a perfect match: birdsong. Birdsong.”
Could it be that my ear was created for birdsong?
I want to be an acoustic ecologist. I want to hear the world around me. Isn’t this a way to listen for the voice of God? To be still and know?
The back yard is my laboratory and the clover invites me to recline. The sky is that saturated blue I squeeze from my paint tube and the clouds dim its bright hue in stops and starts as they roll through. When was the last time I lay on my back and gazed up at the sky? I am dizzy with the quick moving white and the scent of moist leaves in the air. The wind whispers through the trees and a dim memory stirs from my childhood: my sister and I, on a sloping bank doing this same thing; searching for pictures in the clouds. I feel the fingers of time let loose their hold on me and spiral back to those younger days. I close my eyes and smile—let the sun kiss my face.
That’s when I hear it. The sweet song of a chickadee. And it sounds like a prayer to me.