Thursday, July 28, 2016




Must I painfully endure the blast of industrial noise in the name of progress, the clank and bang of construction with pneumatic jack hammers, air compressors, dump trucks, bulldozers, loaders, cement trucks, and pavement breakers that seem to be everywhere in crowded urban areas?

A move to the suburbs? That simply substitutes one environmental noise for another. There is the deafening whirr and roar of power lawnmowers. I've heard of “environmentally friendly vegetation management.” Someone started a business called “Goats-R-Us.” They lease “Soft and Silent Machines” with four legs and horns that don't honk which are guaranteed to take care of lawns or fields. In the process they consume most of the things one would normally take to the dumpster!

Some people wear noise-cancelling headphones and walk around in zombie-like silence oblivious to everything and everyone around them.

Others pay big money for vacation trips to escape to some quiet corner of the world only to discover that there is no silence on Fantasy Island.

In the search for silence, some corporations install quiet “nap pods” for the use of executives and employees during break time. Some hotel chains designate quiet floors; certain hospitals mandate “quiet time” for an hour or two daily in an effort toward healing and rest. The practice has met with enthusiastic response from patients. Daycare centers include quiet times to counter the constant hubbub of active young children.

Our search for mental repose may lead to the purchase of noise cancellation headphones which emit opposing sound waves to mask noise. One could go the cheaper route of earplugs. Virtually soundproof rooms with carpeted walls, ceilings, and floors are in demand for installation in certain buildings. Anechoic chambers have been experimented with to test whether human beings can exist in absolute silence. So far the results have been negative and far from healthful—no one seems to be able to endure complete absence of sound very long before panic sets in. I recently heard about noise-masking machines to distract our ears by emitting a drone-like monotonous hum.

Well then, can laws force silence? The EPA has determined that noise above 55 decibels outdoors and 45 decibels indoors is detrimental to concentration and work production. It's a fact that noise levels of more than 100 decibels are the norm on today’s dance floors! I heard of a rock music festival that tried out a “silent disco.” Everyone wore wireless headphones to individually hear the music and partied until dawn without disturbing nearby residents. Activist groups rally to increase awareness of noise pollution; they lobby to fight it by trying to adopt noise codes. Community planners erect sound barriers along heavy traffic highways to deaden the never-ending, nerve-racking honking, roar, blare, rumble, and screech of commuters and freight transport.

Complete silence may not really exist. But in an effort to find it, a park outside Los Angeles offered a two-hour silent hike to “let nature speak for itself.” However, even our God-created natural world is surprisingly noisy. Living creatures buzz, chirp, croak, squawk, cackle, screech, hoot, bellow, moo, and whinny but such noises don’t seem to assault our mental state as much as mechanical sounds.

Could we go out into space to find quiet? Science tells us that the universe is not silent either! It makes its own unique sounds.
Should I try to isolate myself in my search for quiet and tranquility? Being alone may not bring the kind of peace I'm looking for either—solitary confinement, after all, is a punishment in our prison system. Pure silence even makes some people uncomfortable. The minute they come into their homes or cars they switch on the radio or TV. Children today are conditioned to do their homework with loud, raucous background music and seem unable to concentrate when it is quiet.

In the unlikely absence of all extraneous noise, we can still hear our own heartbeats and the vibrations in our eardrums. Those afflicted with the stress of tinnitus or constant ringing in the ears find that complete quiet is never possible. Nor can any of us escape from voices in our heads that are constantly carrying on muffled conversations.

Can't I go to bed and sleep soundly as a last resort to achieve silence? Ah, but I'm told that our ears never completely switch off sounds even while we sleep; the brain still registers noise! I hear things while sleeping that in the normal course of daily life are drowned out. If a spouse snores, we lie awake and our nighttime blood pressure spikes!


The cacophony of the TV-shaped world
distracts my soul, muffles important thoughts,
threatens my spirit with perpetual commotion.
Buzzes, drones, babble and jabber
of nine-to-five dins and distractions
keep me from hearing myself think.

The high decibel level of external racket
injures my sensitive inner spirit.
I long for the silent slots
between the roaring, roiling surf
and the cry of gliding gulls,
away from blaring boom boxes
nerve-jangling clamor
and raucous background bedlam.

I yearn to bask in the selected silence
of my treasured space within,
tune into its buoyant joy,
revel in its simple serenity.
I need a still-point at my center
to sense what is happening
in the inner chamber of my heart,
a place where I can freely retreat,
be at home with my tender spirit,
and in touch with the Spirit of God.

I learn from silence:
It is a patient teacher
nourishing me to become wise.
Silence is a welcoming harbor
beckoning me to anchor my soul.
In silence I feel quickened and alive,
bathed in its tranquil quality,
a strange and beautiful dimension.
In silence I am alert to the voice of God
unheard by ears near-deaf to peace.

The cosmic rhythm of God
alternates between sound and silence,
majestic words and universal hush:
The Creator broke the interstellar silence
with His thundering, creative word
or was His whisper loud enough?
Then He rested in serene satisfaction
declaring, to whom? “It is good!”

The unfathomable silences of God
are mysterious and frustrating,
consoling, yet withholding understanding,
filled with hidden meaning
requiring my full trust and respect,
even when I can’t hear God.
The One Who is called The Word
does not always speak aloud,
and I do not always listen.

But if my ears are open to hear,
His silence is as eloquent
as when Jesus stood before Pilate,
quiet, answering not, but distinctly heard.
I protect my patches of silence
snatches between the press and stress
of the mandatory and obligatory.
I guard them jealously,
run eagerly to my times of silence.

I find them in the ordinary:
when dawn breaks quietly
as I watch in hushed wonder,
when evening shadows steal in
and I lay tasks and burdens aside,
when I’m wrapped in the blanket of darkness.
I stand in awe and lift my mortal eyes
gazing beyond the starry skies.
It is then I hear in the pregnant stillness
the unmistakable voice of God.
        Leona Choy

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