Hearing voices

Out in the woods, there is a layer of sound in silence. One has to get seriously quiet to hear all the noise.

When 8:18 comes, I am standing on a snow-dusted path that runs along a wide creek. It is bone-chillingly cold. I am alone. And yet, all around me is a quiet chatter.

I hear the birds talking: the staccato laughter of a crow, the churr of a woodpecker, the high cadence of a Carolina wren. A small raft of ducks splashes into flight. Cardinals flutter in brambles nearby, stopping to inflate against the cold. But there is also the liquid voice of the stream and the whispering of the ice as the current washes new crystals over the frozen shelf.

A few years ago, I began to learn the language of birds. It wasn’t long before I could isolate the songs I’d hear as I walked through the neighborhood. I realized then that there had always been this conversation going on unnoticed around me. Individual voices in the chorus became distinct.

On the way home from my walk, I stop in the once-a-week farmer’s market. I’m now attuned to listening, so as I pass stalls, I catch snippets of conversation. Again, I am aware of how much I regularly tune out.

Years ago, before a church service started, I closed my eyes and just took in the full range of human conversation in that sanctuary. The sound was a complexity of chatter. A hum of human dialog. I wondered then at God’s ability to hear unique voices in the white noise of prayer that rises up to him. It is beyond my comprehension.

I have enough to handle just tuning my ears to what is in ear-shot.

I cannot fathom, Father, how you can isolate my voice in the din of human prayer. But I am so grateful that you do. Help me to hear the world around me, to revel in the rich panoply of sound you give to us each day.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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