Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A few more words on silence

There is an irony in the fact that as I lose my hearing I am more drawn to silence, Perhaps it is because only in silence do sounds have meaning. That is to say, only in silence can we attend to sound.

Our ears are generally so immersed in cacophony that individual sounds -- the flitter of the bananaquit in the torchwood tree -- is lost in a sea of meaningless decibels. And what of all those folks I see who go about their business with earbuds pumping sound into their ears? Do they hear the song of the mockingbird or the slap of the waves on the shore? Music is a way of giving silence shape. When music never ceases it is not music but Muzak.

I wonder too about the sounds I don't hear because of the limitations of human hearing -- frequencies or volumes too high or too low to be audible. Like our other senses, our sense of hearing is a narrow window on the world. If we have access to such a narrow spectrum of potential sensations, imagine how little we understand of whatever is ultimate and eternal.

"All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence," wrote Herman Melville. He believed that silence is the only voice of God. When I was in Istanbul this past spring, I was rather put off by the loudspeakers that blared the voice of God four times a day from minarets all over the city, calling the faithful to prayer. I felt rather nearer to whatever is ultimate in the beautiful silent spaces of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The God I seek hides in the creation and whispers sweet nothings, as lover's do -- the inaudible whirr of the hummingbird's wings, perhaps.