Friday, November 23, 2007

Languages of silence

It was Thursday night, and my Starbucks was busy. The lobby area was full of people- sitting in groups, standing in groups, leaning on the overstuffed chairs, all crowding around each other and involved in lively discussion. There were at least 25 people, happily crammed into whatever groupings they could manage. They were there for a Deaf Chat Coffee meeting, a group that organizes regular coffee house socials for the deaf and hearing impaired.

As I changed the coffee, took orders, and restocked around the register, I smiled at hubbub of congenial friendship circling around me. It was pleasant to see so many people smiling as they interacted with one another, to hear the slight buzz around the room, to know that relationships were flourishing. One person asked a friend when she planned to visit Australia. Another group chatted about school and various studies. Then I stopped to actually listen, and what I heard caught me by surprise. I felt the quiet the same time I heard it. The noise level was comparable to an evening with only two or three people conversing with one another, yet lively and active conversations circled all about me. I just couldn't understand their language- a language of silence.

I thought about this concept as I finished up my work and drove home that night. I wonder what other languages buzz around me on a daily basis that I don't understand- either because I don't "speak the language" or because I choose not to listen. How many people cry out for mercy and forgiveness, but I stop my ears because they are an inconvenience? How many crude jokes spoken, or curses thrown right and left, or seemingly heartless answers are misread as "tough skin," when those people are actually begging for love and a tender response? How often do I allow criticism's sting to cause a biting or angry response, when it should have prompted patience and understanding? How often do I judge people by what I choose to see and hear, not for what and who they are?

What would I hear if I my ears could comprehend the voice of the soul? When I stand in a crowd of people, my ears can only pick up physical sounds- the crackle of paper bags against paper bags, the shuffle of feet on tile floors, the murmured complaint of weary shoppers, the occasional cry of a baby whose no-nap limit has been breached. What does God hear? The despair of the woman who spends money because she has none. The pain of the wife who runs to the mall to escape from her life. The numbness of the teenager who loiters through the aisles looking for something or someone to recognize his worth. The weariness of the child who just wants to be held. The bitterness of the man who can only see the things he doesn't have. The selfishness of the employee who counts down the minutes until she can make her own escape- to the television.

"Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear." (Is. 64:25) What does God hear? Cries for mercy. What is His response?

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son... - Galatians 4:4-7
What do I hear? What will my response be?

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