The Sound of Silence

I don’t think Simon and Garfunkel were praising the sound of silence in their song by that name.  After all, they have the line “Silence like a cancer grows.”  They don’t appear to praise silence; I do.

When I had a parish inside the city limits of Detroit, I was amazed at the ambient noise.  It was everywhere all the time.  Since I had grown up in the suburbs and had just come from four years service in a parish in rural Texas, I found the noise alluring.  I would go out on the porch at night and listen to the sound of the urban surf.

There have been studies that have shown this noise that we aren’t even aware of hearing affects us.  Recent studies say the same thing about the ambient light emitted by electronic devices even when they are off.  I don’t know about the light but I do know about the noise.  The constant murmuring, growling, snarling of a city even at rest put me on edge.  I noticed this only once I got away from it.

Thanks to the digital revolution we are now where the science fiction shows have depicted and/ or predicted we would be.   Everywhere you turn there is a television screen, a speaker, a devise telling you something, selling you something, imputing data.  Most people seem to embrace it.  One of my sons wrote an op-ed piece for the local paper lamenting the loss of film at the movie theater because of digital projection.  The first responder called him a Luddite.

I use the internet; I write this blog., but I can’t handle  (bear?) the instant contact of a cell phone let alone a text message.  I look for things on the web, but I find it numbing to surf it let alone explore it.  But even the looking is limitless.  I can always think of something else to look up.  As C. S. Lewis said, “Form and Limit belong to the good” (The Pilgrim’s Regress, 181).  The internet is formless and limitless, and so very noisy to me.

I don’t think the noise is benign.  Lewis, poet and profound thinker that he was, put it much better than I when he wrote:

“’Clamour shall clean put out the voice of  wisdom,

The printing-presses with their clapping wings,

Fouling your nourishment.  Harpy wings,

Filling your minds all day with foolish things,

Will tame the eagle Thought: till she sings

Parrot-like in her cage to please dark kings.’”

(The Pilgrim’s Regress, 187)

I suspect that many like the white noise because it quells if not quiets the sound of their own thoughts.  But I’m not saying that the white noise necessarily serves “dark kings.” Neither am I saying that all or even most of my thoughts soar with eagles and deserve to be heard by others, but if even I can’t hear them then what of Cogito ergo sum?

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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