Here is where I explain this little series of meditations...
Psalm 78; 1 Samuel 3:1-11
"One, two, yarn over...one, two, knit two together...one, two, three...no, wait..." Sigh.
If I gave my meditations titles, this one would be, 'Things I heard at Kanuga Today.'
"You mean I have to take the whole row out?"
"I did it!"
"Those colors look beautiful together."
"Seriously, we're eating again already?!"
I heard needles clicking, sewing machines humming, stitch markers clinking, irons sighing, instructors patiently explaining, people laughing and telling stories, toast crunching, bugles sounding, birds singing, prayers said together, and silence being shared comfortably. All the sounds you would expect at a knitting and quilting retreat. At Kanuga, anyway - I don't know if every retreat center has bugles and special toast.
What wonders there are to behold, our sense of hearing among them - delicate with narrow canals and tiny bones, hair-like fibers and skin stretched tight as a drum, detecting the movement of sound in the air. Vibrations become nerve impulses, and nerve impulses become thoughts, and the thoughts become...this is my favorite song...my friend is speaking...someone is crying...the wind is howling...will that dog ever stop barking...
Knitting and quilting are relatively quiet pursuits, and at the same time filled with sounds: scissors snipping and yarn flapping and yarn swifts spinning. True quiet, in fact, is hard, if not impossible, to come by in our noisy world of phones ringing and devices dinging; of traffic and train whistles and planes making their final approach; of talk shows, bass lines, videos that start playing when you haven't even clicked on them, experts arguing on the news, sirens, gun shots, car alarms. We've even learned to shout silently when we write a text or email in all caps.
There's lots of noise out there, and unlike our sense of sight, which we turn off by closing our eyes, our ears are always perceiving the sounds that bombard us, even while we sleep. The Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor laments how difficult it is to find true darkness or true silence, so pervasive are waves of light and sound all around us. They come at us with such velocity, she writes, that we have to defend ourselves against them, and may become so calloused that we no longer see or hear, even when our eyes our open and our ears unstopped.
And even if we could shut out sound, there's lots of noise inside ourselves as well. We can close every door and turn off everything that hums or beeps or ticks and tocks, but then the volume of our thoughts turns up, and while those tiny bones in our ears don't hear them, somehow it still registers as sound.
How then do we listen, for surely not every sound is an imposition. God did not create a world that stays silent. Waves crash, leaves rustle, bees buzz, people sing. And even God, in so many stories we read in scripture...even God has a voice. How do we listen?
That's what we asked a seminary professor who was teaching contemplative prayer. We were to sit in silence, he said, and obediently, we tried...in our classroom on 9th Avenue in New York City. It was evening, and outside the open window, people were passing by, talking and laughing loudly. A truck idled at the corner and then began beeping its backing-up-warning. A light must have changed, because traffic picked up, and it was surely a yellow cab that honked. A car alarm was set off as another large truck lumbered by. "We can't do it," we said. "How can we hear God when there is so much noise?"
Our professor smiled. He knew we'd ask. "Are you sure you can't hear God? Listen differently," he said. "Pray the noise. Those people passing by? Pray for them - who knows what burdens they carry. Those trucks are delivering some kind of goods or services - pray for those who go without. The traffic, the horns - pray for the safety of all who travel. The sirens, the alarms - pray for all who are in danger, and for those who go to their aid."
Speak, for your servant is listening. God's voice comes in countless ways, even in scripture - there is that still, small voice, yes, but there is also thunder and angel song and the words of teachers, friends, and strangers. Listen differently, it's as if Eli said to Samuel. Are you sure you aren't hearing God's voice? Listen differently, God says to us. What will we hear?
Needles clicking? Pray for the person whose head that hat will warm. A sewing machine? Pray for the family whose loved one wore the t-shirts that are becoming a quilt. A bugle call? Pray for the staff who cooked our food.
Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening. What wonders there are to behold! Amen.