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Nov 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Guest Speaker – Elyse Snipes

Listening to God and Acoustic Resonance

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (The beginning of the Shema, a fixed daily prayer in Judaism)

Good morning, thank you for having me. I am so deeply grateful to be here this morning with all of you.

When I originally sat down to prepare this sermon my mind went to 100 different places in regards to what to share.
This morning we are going to figure out what fishing, echolocation, the Shema and 1 Corinthians have in common.
I want you to journey with me through this process . . . we are going to hear how all these things have to do with you and God and Christianity and changing the world we live in with the noise we make.

Listening and Sound

My usual process of preparing for a sermon begins with listening.

I try to find a space where I can let my mind run. Like when you go fishing and you keep letting the line out until something catches and then there is this dance between fisher and fish, a tension and an art in how you pull it in. A little at a time, let it run again, reel in hard, give it some line, pull back in.
That is what the exchange feels like when settling on a concept or idea and everything that one idea is attached to.

Sometimes when I prepare for a sermon, I ask myself a question, and the answer is right there, ready to be served up. Other times, it is like that elusive fish, where I know I have something on the line, but it isn’t close enough for me to know what it is, so all I can do is keep the tension on the line and lure it towards me.

Preparing for this morning, I responded to Chuck by telling him I would pay attention to what was reverberating within me. Because this is exactly what it feels like, like there is something banging around in there, clanging off all my walls, attempting to come forth.
I kept toying with that idea of reverberating, of noise, and sound and listening.
I thought about how we first learn sounds, and how those sounds become familiar to us, and eventually become language and safety, healing and tribe.
I thought about how we not only become familiar with the sound itself but the sound associated with a specific person.
Which got me thinking about attachment, imprinting and moms.

I thought about nursery songs and cadence, acoustic resonance and tuning forks. My mind ran to things I remembered learning about in grade school, echolocation and circadian rhythms.
I thought about cultures and people before there was writing and how their tradition was based on language and sound and symbol. Like how the Jewish people used the Shema – as a call and response, as identity, as religion and connection and remembering. As a way to shape culture and inform the next generation.
I thought about their obedience and their listening to God, about how that passage in Deuteronomy is instructive and how now, thousands of years later you can see young men in front of the wailing wall still literally obeying this scripture with their phylacteries and fringes.

I thought about how the original sound of the Shema reverberated through their culture and manifested in a physical way that we can now see. And how sound and language tend to do that, become shape and figure, artifact and culture.

When I was down one of these particular rabbit holes of thought, I got distracted by the noise of my children and shot back up to the surface of now and after taking care of whatever they needed, I felt like I needed to reset in order to get back into the stream of thought. Like when you try to get back into a dream, maybe the right position will help you pick up where you left off. Which reminded me of how our bodies naturally tend to pair themselves with the noise in our environments, constantly seeking homeostasis.
If we feel stressed or anxious in here, we act stressed and anxious out here. If our external environment doesn’t match our internal environment we feel disconnected, out of alignment, off. Sometimes we try to regulate our insides by seeking a soothing external environment to bring our inside down.
Like listening to classical music. Which reduces our heart rate and our breathing. We are physiologically affected as we match the sound around us.
We seek sound on purpose.

Are you with me?
I thought about your group here that meets and what you represent in the community, your specific sound, if you will. I thought about Chuck, and how much I have missed the sound of his voice. But not just the sound, it’s the way he says what he says and how he has shaped me as a follower of Christ. How the sound of his voice reminds me of all the times and places I have listened to him.
Which made me think about object permanence and memory and how the brain holds these different components that allow us to pull up our past in real time. And how music does this really well, listening to a song can transport us back to when we first heard it.

I then thought about a David Crowder version of an old song, where he sings about “tuning our hearts to sing His grace.”
I thought about instruments and how they produce sound, but more than sound; they make music.
And that passage from 1 Corinthians, “if I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”.

Which, brought me to love, because that is what it’s all about always. Like that song the Beatles wrote, “All you need is — love.” And what our world so desperately needs. From us.

Aren’t you glad you don’t live in my mind? We would never get anything done.
Can you see what happens when you let your mind wander? When it goes to all these places and back again and off track and down the rabbit hole and through thousands of years and ancient texts and modern day music.

Now you have a general map of all the concepts connected to our time together today, to this idea of sound. I want to spend some more time hovering over some of these specific trails to see what may connect to your particular experience and hopefully initiate your own mental wanderings.

Our first landmark:

How do you listen? To God. What does this look like? How do you discern His voice from the milieu? Christians can get hung up on this. Either overly afraid they are making up God’s voice or sure they have never heard from him or mistake a shameful, harsh voice as God’s because of their projected idea of father. Sound familiar? How do we know when it’s really God?

Sometimes I think of it like this, before caller ID, you answered the phone and you could tell who it was by the sound of their voice. If you heard your mom’s voice anywhere, you would recognize it. That is what recognizing the voice of God is like, or a voice of wisdom. It is familiar, you feel it, you know when it lines up with all the other times you talked together. You know it as sure as you know your mother when she calls. It is more than the noise she makes, it is in the connection you have. You know if your mom called you and told you something crazy that didn’t align with her character, you would notice. And you would investigate what was going on. You know – experientially. You know the voice of God, it is the life-giving, gracious, lavish voice. If what you hear doesn’t line up with what scripture says, with who you know God to be, then it probably isn’t God.

I have to tell you a story about a “silent” retreat I did in Thailand. This was my greatest attempt at listening to God.
I spent a semester abroad in Thailand when I was in college. And during Spring Break I decided to go to a monastery for eight days to do a silent retreat. Because that is what all college students do on spring break, right? I was looking forward to this opportunity. I was in a little stone monastery, tucked in the mountains of a remote village in the middle of nowhere. The saffron robes of the monks was almost shocking compared to the dark green of the jungle around us. There was a walking maze in the garden, a stream with a little bench, little nooks for quiet meditation. A gong that would call us to meals was the only sound besides what nature provided us with. The idea was eight days of silence. Quiet contemplation. A deep searching. But quiet, that was the whole point.
Well, it was anything but that. As soon as I took my vow of silence and turned off my mouth, my mind went a million miles an hour. It was loud. And I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t turn it off by engaging in conversation or distracting myself with TV or work or anything for that matter. It was uncomfortable. All the chatter and noise. The memories and thoughts and scatteredness. Not at all what I anticipated on a silent retreat. Because of all the pent up noise inside me.
I had not incorporated any time in my regular life for silence, so all my noise came rushing forward. I walked that maze all day and imagined my thoughts and experiences unraveling behind me as I walked, becoming un-mummified. I just let it all run out behind me until I got to the end of myself and I could just sit and breathe and accept and hold. One of the most intense mental experiences of my life.

Are you making time in your life to listen? How can you avoid that not so silent experience and let it out more often, so as not to be overwhelmed by the silence when you actually do come to stop and listen? Like the time of silent prayer we started with today.
One of my favorite descriptions of prayer is by Theophan the Recluse: “To pray, is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing within you.” He didn’t mention a single thing about speaking. Just standing. Like when St. Francis of Assissi, said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” They are on to something … we will come back to that at the end. The power of opposite action and living a lovely life.

What do you listen to?

Literally, what music do you listen to? What podcasts? What teachings?
How do these affect you? Inform you? Change you? Elevate you?
Do you notice how you feel when you are listening to these different mediums? What it produces within you? How sound changes you?

Lets take that even deeper… What does it sound like within you?
If we were to listen in to your inner voice, your thought process, what would it feel like? Positive and encouraging? Inspiring and hopeful? Or shaming, impoverished and small?
Do you notice how what you listen to here (point to head) affects how you feel here (heart) and what you do out here?
The sound of our thoughts, positive or negative, influence our direct experience of ourselves. Our perception of others. Our world view. The noise in our head can keep us from stepping out, doing something great, or engaging vulnerably with others.


when the sound in our head is gracious, we settle in to our skin a little differently. We embrace all the parts of ourselves. This directly influences others experience of us.

Like this question for instance: what do you sound like to others when they are listening to you? When you engage in dialogue with others, what do you sound like? This is an important and difficult question to hold. Sometimes we don’t like the way we sound, in here or out here. And we can get into a cycle of cacophony.

Spend some time considering your sound.

Lets move to another rabbit hole—language

We learn by practicing and making sense of these random collections of noises by repetition and trying. I have three young kiddos, so we are right in the middle of speech and probably speech therapy. We do all sorts of crazy things when our kids are little. “Say, ‘Dada,’ ‘Mama,’ ‘ball’.” We simplify sounds and language to make it more possible for them to learn. We mimic and mirror the language sounds to show our children or grandchildren we hear them and to induce a back and forth pattern. Relationship gets easier when we can identify what it is they want and communicate it. There is a deeper connection when they look at you and say, “Mama”. They gain more mastery over their environment which results in less melt downs and emotional regulation. We learn by practicing, by repeating.

For us, it might sound like this, “Our Father, who art in heaven” … or memorizing scripture.

We practice the language of scripture to connect to our heavenly Father and to have mastery over our earthly environment.

Are you starting to see how listening and sound and language are an integrated part of our experience in Christ? Let’s keep going.

Association –
We begin to associate specific people with specific sounds, and certain feelings to those sounds. And people also begin to associate us with a certain sound or feeling as well. That physical reaction when we hear someone sing, or hear someone we don’t particularly care for, we actually have a physiological response (example of posture or looking away or closing our eyes, or moving away) it actually changes our frequency. We feel negatively and then we can create a wave of that negative frequency that reverberates in others.
A frustrating day at work, we come home and are short with our spouse, who gets impatient with the kids, who act out and kick the dog. Unrelated but directly connected. And in reverse, we come together and have this collective, elevated experience, we have attuned ourselves to the heavenly’s and something spiritual reverberates within us and we carry it with us and we see things more positively, more graciously, we are friendly to the stranger, who in turn goes home and is kind to his partner who is then moved in compassion for their kids, who bask in their parents affection and they weren’t even here this morning.

Do you hear it?

This is how the world changes. This is how we make a difference. How we make some noise. How we start a symphony.

Tuning Fork Example

There is this video on Youtube and you can look it up later. Just search “tuning fork acoustic resonance.” What happens is there are two identical tuning forks, which make the same frequency, and they are placed right next to each other, but only one is struck. When the one is struck and is making it’s sound, the other one starts to reverberate in the identical sound wave or frequency, producing the same noise.
They were tuning to each other, just by being next to each other.
Pretty influential.
Maybe kind of like what we are doing here. Maybe something will be struck in you and then you might cause that sound in someone else. Acoustic resonance. I love that concept, especially as it related to the church. I love thinking about our collective sound and what we sound like to our heavenly father.

Naturally, when talking about sound we need to talk about Echolocation.
Echolocation, is the biological sonar used by several kinds of animals. Echolocating animals emit calls out to the environment and listen to the echoes of those calls that return from various objects near them. They use these echoes to locate and identify the objects.

I had a client in my office a couple weeks ago, she is ten, and she came in with a cast because she was trying to use echolocation to move around the house and fell and broke her arm.

Making a sound helps us to know where we are and where others are. It helps us to navigate through life, to perceive our position in relation to something else. We don’t literally do this, like that young girl, but we do it like this: How are you? A check to see if we need to reposition ourselves. How are we? A sounding to gauge where we are. “I am thinking about …. what do you think?” Feedback, brainstorming, conversation.

We sound off of each other. Process aloud, ask for others’ opinions and perspectives, “Do you think this looks nice?” We offer words of encouragement, we use language to remind each other of who we are.

I have a friend who when growing up and when she would leave her house, her parents would say, “Remember who you are and who’s you are.”
I love this. And now she says this to her children.

Repetitious language that gives identity, comfort, strength and position.

Like a call and response – a known and expected pattern of communication that only exists when the two come together.

The Shema

For the Jewish people, who when the high priest would invoke the Divine Name, the people would respond with, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one”. The Shema was used in worship and in their gathering together.
This back and forth was a declaration that not only defined who they were in relationship to each other but also whose they were as a collective people in relationship to their neighbors who were polytheistic. They belonged to the Lord, the one and only. This was distinguishing and holy. This was identity and imprinted into their minds and passed through generations. The Shema is the perfect example of how basic sounds become more than a repetition of collected syllables. This was their core. And it exists today because it was ingrained in who they were and passed through every generation. Before there was writing.

I do this thing with my daughter, she is one, and I will ask her, “Who’s my girl?” And she will look up at me and smile and say, “Eden.” This is equally a reminder of who she is as well as a moment of connection, our way of saying there is something special between you and me. Our own shema. Using language for connection, intimacy, identity and presence.

Let’s talk about Distraction + Pairing. We can set an intention, much like in silent prayer, and we can get distracted, a phone ringing, remembering all the things we need to do, hunger, boredom, rushed thoughts, anxious feeling in our chest, difficulty slowing down, unhealthy rhythms of work that lack balance. Distraction from our calling in Christ, how we want to be joyful always and patient in affliction, but become distracted by pain, pulled out of the flow of grace by doubt, anger, deep suffering.
We can know so much about who we are and what His word says about our firm identity in Christ and the noise of the Accuser can drown out the still, small voice within us.
When we fail, or blow it in relationship, or let someone down and all we can hear is, “You are a failure,” “You will never be enough,” “You always do this.”

Or what about when someone hurts you. What does it sound like within you then? Do you become accusatory and ruthless? Do you confirm their wrong-doing with sentiments like, “I knew it . . .,” “He always . . .,” or add fuel to fire with proof from the past, “. . . just like the last time,” “He did the same thing to me.”

Justifying the rejection or pain with statements that make them less.

We can get distracted by the sound of the dialogue within us. A tug o war between love and vitriol. And then we remember, and we want to pair ourselves again to something holy. To something good. We might turn on a worship song, recite scripture, call a friend, speak a positive affirmation, silence ourselves and descend into our hearts to worship our creator. We might look at the waves and pair our breathing to those great rollers. Or go for a walk and notice the way the branches sway in the breeze and consider how nature seems to be aware of something we’re not.

We use our surrounding, or we can, to ground us, to turn our hearts heavenwards, to slow down, to enter in.

Memory + Sound. One of the components of memory is sound. Beyond our conscious effort, the brain holds memories made up of the components: images, thoughts, emotions and sensations like sounds, smells and bodily feelings. We may have memories that are already paired with sound or a song for instance. There was a song played at my brother’s memorial service that I cannot escape and every time I hear it I am transported back there. Not necessarily in a sad way, but in a very real way, in a way that makes me wonder if this is some message from beyond, some reaching out from behind the veil? Who knows?
But this sound can produce an experience. Do you know what I am talking about? When you hear it and it strikes a chord and you may feel choked up, or nostalgic or giddy?

That song I mentioned earlier, the one David Crowder sings, is called “Come Thou Fount” and talks about tuning our hearts to sing His grace. I mean, come on! The word picture there is so rich. To think that just like those tuning forks, we could strike our hearts against His word and sing His grace to this broken, needy world.

His grace

Not condemnation or judgment or hate or superiority or exclusivity or ignorance. No. If that is what is resounding within us, we are a clanging cymbal.

Which takes us to 1 Corinthians – Paul was writing this letter to a church plant in Corinth, one of the most wicked cities in ancient times and as a new church with lots of recent converts from heathenism, there were more than a few issues he needed to provide instruction on. Let me read this commentary to you about the specific passage about love:

The more excellent way is “Love.” Without it all moral and intellectual gifts are valueless. If there be love—the love of God, and the love of our brethren—in our hearts, all will be well. This hymn of praise in honor of love is remarkable. That this passage should be found in the middle of a protracted argument suggests the idea that what we have here is the result of a sudden and direct inspiration. The Apostle had always been conscious of a mighty power working in him, mastering him, bringing him into captivity to Christ. There suddenly flashes upon him the realization of what that power is, and he cannot but at once give utterance, in language of surpassing loftiness and glowing with emotion, to the new and profound conviction which has set his whole soul aflame. This chapter is the Baptismal Service of Love. Here it receives its new Christian name. The word (agapè) which is used here for love is peculiar to the New Testament (and a few passages in the LXX.). It is not to be found in any heathen writing.

Beautiful. To think of Paul, this strong, authoritative figure who wrote most of the New Testament, is being moved by love and it flows right through his pen into the paper, into Corinth, into us. Reminds me of how the prophet Jeremiah explains it,

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

To be powerfully, powerless to the movement of love.

Corinth was positioned on an isthmus, the chief city in Greece and a leader in commerce. Read, “all different types of people and languages.” Being able to speak multiple languages was extremely valuable to a Corinthian because it would allow you to do business with anyone. “If I speak in the tongues of men,” Paul wrote,
“or of angels” — that heavenly language, direct access to God, eloquent, superior, beyond human. Also a coveted gift.

“But do not have LOVE,” I am a noise. A worthless sound. It doesn’t have value in the kingdom of God. In the heavenly trade. Because love is the currency of the kingdom. And without it, we are just a bunch of clamoring brass. You guys, the world does not need more good, anyone can do good. The world needs agape. It needs spontaneous combustion. It needs us to make a sound that tunes all our hearts to the resounding frequency of grace.

You know the difference. You know what it feels like when you feel something within you connect to something bigger than yourself, let’s call that the prompting of love, and then from out of that vertical connection, you act, you do something for someone else, you apply that horizontally. You love, you agape love.
I imagine a heavenly chorus sounding. I picture the most talented musicians earth has known who are now on the other side, responding to our acts of love with the most incredible sound. Like they are in this great arena watching us, like an inverse symphony where the band is all around us and we are in the center. And there is this beautiful call and response that happens… we love, because he first loved us. An “I love you” and an “I love you too.” A “Do you love me Peter?” “Yes, Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” “Then feed my sheep.”

A call, a response, a directive, a lifetime of service and action. A sound of love that was recorded thousands of years ago and we can still hear today.

Our world, our country, our community, our families, need us now more than ever. Need love, now, more than ever. How many mass shootings have we endured in the last few months? How many more will we have before the year is over? Something is so seriously broken in our country, in our world.
On a smaller scale, how many families are hurting and entering into the holiday season with dread? Our communities are in need.

So let me ask you this:

What sound do Christians make? What noise are they/we known for? Is it a crowd of naysayers and judgment?

Or could we be a great cloud of witnesses, cheering others on as we all seek to run this great race?

How can we reverberate differently into our communities so that the noise we make isn’t hurtful to others? So that we aren’t cloaking spirituality around shame and contingencies.

The world needs the church. And we are the church.

How are we going to respond to this need, to this calling?

Let’s do it, with a symphony. Let’s start a wave of change so that people have more experiences of Christians being considerate, aware, intelligent and generous. You are already that. You have been affected by His great love and you are already tuned to resonate this back into the world. You have gathered here today, and most Sundays to strike that tuning fork and to get back into the frequency of grace. So, don’t let that sound stop when you walk out of the room. Carry that with you, into your marriage, into your work, into your communities and into the world. Let’s make some noise.

The sound the world needs is LOVE. Agape love. Heavenly love. If we take all our good intentions and things we think we know about God and the Bible and faith and clang around out there, people are going to plug their ears. They aren’t going to be able to hear the music.

So, how? How do we do this? How do we embody this love you?

Like this –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Let’s sound like that. Let’s tune our heart to sing a melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.

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