My wife sings in a recreational choir in Toronto and last night was their final concert of the season (and the first time in my life I wanted to join in a standing ovation).  Memorable voices, instrumentation, and harmonies.  Music is a universally appealing and amazingly complex creation, honed by a God who obviously values simple artistry and passion as much as he does complexity and structure.

Because they spent a few hours rehearsing before the concert I had the ‘privilege’ of dropping her off at the venue and then killing some time while I waited for the concert to begin.  I read a bit, napped a bit, shopped a bit.  In north Toronto.  I’m sure there is an argument that there are economic and social advantages to urban living but, I have to tell you, few of them apply to me.  It seems that cities serve to magnify the things around us that are both good and bad.

Like noise.

Sound is good, it’s just incessant or needless or loud noise that is bad.

Crackling Honda Civic mufflers and rumbling Harleys are not appealing sounds; rather, they are the noises of insecure guys reminding us that they have testosterone.

Note to world: please keep your testosterone to yourself.

A man carrying a Cross and preaching on a street corner; some guy ‘hip-hopping’ on another corner; three garbage-throwing dudes communicating mostly with expletives.  Voices good; unsolicited, intrusive voices bad.

Have you ever been in a restaurant with a loud talker somewhere in the room and you couldn’t help but overhear the conversation from four tables over?  Within minutes you involuntarily learn where they live, what they do, their kids names, how cute they are, and who they ‘told off’ this morning.  Conversation good; sharing your conversation with everyone in the room, bad.

Why do car alarms have to be so loud when we arm them?  And while we’re on the topic, do you think we’ll ever master car alarms to the point where we will actually look for bad guys when they sound in a parking lot?  Safety good; car alarms bad.

And how about the need some people have to share their music with us?  Especially from their vehicles.  Usually its music you don’t want to hear.  The ratio is something like: the worse the music, the louder the volume; the louder the volume, the more open the windows.  Bad music is bad noise.

How about television commercials that are louder than the regular programming?  Or what about reality programming where people talk or scream over each other?  How do you like that screech of metal on ceramic when somebody pushes back from the table in Tim Hortons?  Or how about the worst possible noise – politicians catcalling in parliament?  Public service good; partisan shouting bad.  Remember the most childish, petty politicians when you vote.

But, unforgivably, we are also guilty of contributing to our own noise distractions.  Cell phones and ipods hang on our ears.  We spend our down time in places like malls or clubs or amusement parks or concerts or sports events.  Noise, noise, noise, noise.  We ‘relax’ at home with video games and TV and take motorized recreational vehicles with us on vacation.

But with all that incessant noise, what precious moments are we missing?  What truths are we avoiding?  What quiet voices go unheard?

Silence has been a favored and effective spiritual discipline for thousands of years, yet I grew up in church tradition where loud, fiery sermons were considered desirable (and more pious?).  Of course I have never actually seen it to be true.  Oh, and praying loudly and eloguently doesn’t make a prayer more answerable or meaningful.  Talking longer or louder doesn’t make your story more compelling.  I’ve discovered that sermons or music or prayer or any church activities aren’t made better simply by adding noise or energy.  In fact, for me, the sound of silence has been more important in my spiritual life than the accumulated spiritual noise has been.  Simple prayers, simple music, simple words.  Simple humility.  Simple reflection.

I’m sorry, I really don’t want to be a drag, I can make plenty of pointless noise on my own (just ask my wife).  But please try to tone it down.  For all of us.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (God)