Music and Noise


Here City Church member Liz Crim reflects on the digital noise that surrounds us all and what a retreat from that noise might reveal. We'll dig into ideas like this—and much more—at our next Christian Formation class, Friends or Followers: Lasting Friendship in a Fractured Age, on November 12th and 19th. More information on that class is shared below, but first, let's hear from Liz...

I recently sought some reflection time in a coffee shop, where I found concentration nearly impossible. Even when the shop was nearly empty, the mellow singer/songwriter soundtrack was continually pumped through the speakers. When I sat at an outside table, seeking an escape, a separate soundtrack streamed through the shopping center speakers. As obnoxious as it was, the experience is not dissimilar to most of our lives. In fact, most hours of my day are spent listening to something: radio, Spotify, coworkers, friends, audiobooks/podcasts, etc. There is noise when I wake up, when I drive, when I work (oh that Spotify addiction), when I work out. My grandmother used to ask me if I could ever not listen to something. My cocky response at the time: “Silly Grandma, this is the way of the future!” Silence is associated with libraries or tombs; it is the absence of life. I thought of silence as something to be borne or avoided—not something to be embraced or sought.

There is so much to listen to that sometimes I can’t hear myself think or, more importantly, hear any words from the Holy Spirit. The Psalmist reminds us, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Psalm 62:5). When God speaks to Elijah, He is a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13). Indeed, God often came to the prophets (and to Christ) when they sought solitude.

In Screwtape Letters, Screwtape writes to Wormwood, 

“…the description one human writer made of Heaven: ‘the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence.’

Music and silence–how I detest them both!….[Hell] has been occupied by Noise–Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile–Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end….The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.”

When I read that, I was struck by the idea that music must have a counterpart in silence. If it is continual, does it remain music, or does it become noise? What about the good, beautiful things in my life, the things that glorify God and can therefore be music? If there are too many things, with no rest, silence, or contemplation, can those good things become noise? What would a rhythm of retreat from noise look like in my life? A rest in silence, to seek the Lord. Those silences may make the other good things in my life ring all the more sweetly as glorifying music.  

Our next Christian Formation class, Friends or Followers: Lasting Friendship in a Fractured Age, will explore the effects of technology on ourselves, our culture, and (in particular) on our friendships. We will consider together our call to meaningful relationships and experiences in the midst of a technological world and its digital noise. Join us on November 12th and November 19th, immediately after the worship service. RSVPs encouraged.