Guest Post: Finding Silence in the Kingdom of Noise

M* is pleased to welcome guest blogger E. Paul Whetten, who has graciously agreed to share a few posts with our readers.

E. Paul Whetten was raised in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico and is the oldest son of Edward R. and Gayle DeWitt Whetten. He is married to the former Sally Goodman of Mesa, Arizona, and they are the parents of 6 children. He currently serves as a counselor in the Young Men’s presidency of his stake and as a Gospel Doctrine Teacher in his ward. He has been a nursery leader, temple worker, young men’s leader, elder’s quorum president and counselor in a bishopric. From 1992-1994 Paul served as a missionary in the Chile, Viña del Mar Mission.

Paul is active in his community, serving as a member of several educational and political boards as well as being a guest presenter on American History for local schools and civic organizations in Arizona.

In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis makes an interesting observation about noise in a fictional letter between a senior devil and a new tempter:

“Music and silence – how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father entered Hell … no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise – Noise, that 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. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anywhere like it.”
Noise – as described above, is more than just a loud cacophony of discordant sounds. It is all thoughts and distractions which make it impossible for us to hear the sweeter and more important melodies of life that constantly surround us. This noise is found in many forms and, interestingly enough, assumes the quality of being noise not so much by the sound it makes as much as by the setting it is found in. What might be beautiful and uplifting in one setting becomes noise in another.

In my own life, several examples come to mind. When I have been surrounded by unsettling circumstances, listening to classical music or hymns calms me down and helps restore a sense of peace in my life. If I am trying to study something or read my scriptures, the same music that calms me down distracts me and makes it impossible to get the in depth knowledge I am seeking. I also enjoy watching movies and find that they relax me, but if I watch a movie on Saturday night it makes keeping my thoughts focused on spiritual things almost impossible on Sunday.

For some time now I have been bothered by the effect that noise has in my life and the way that it seems to invade my thoughts regardless of where I am or what I am doing. This morning a song that I haven’t heard in years suddenly started playing in my mind and I have had a devil of a time getting it to shut up! It is not a bad song, it just isn’t what I want to be hearing in my head on Sunday. A couple of weeks ago I had a similar experience in the Temple. An innocuous song I had heard earlier in the day kept playing over and over in my mind when I should have been focused on where I was and what I was doing.

One of the more insidious aspects of noise is that it becomes addicting. Whenever I get into a car I turn on the radio. When I get home either the kids are already watching TV or I turn it on myself. In my office I like to have music playing in the background. If a newspaper or magazine shows up in my office I have a hard time focusing until I have read them. The experiences of distraction I have had seem to illustrate just how consistently I allow noise to be a part of my surroundings.

All of this seems innocent enough, but what is it costing me? When noise becomes my natural environment, I struggle to hear the whisperings of the spirit. If I favor noise to human interaction, I am missing out on the conversations and experiences that will bind me closer to my family. And, the more immersed I am in noise, the more my inner core becomes attuned to the frequencies of the world. When I stop to think about all this I am convinced that noise is one of the many subtle tools that Satan uses to create distance between us and our Heavenly Father.

All of us are like the soundboard of a piano, reverberating and amplifying the sounds that we are associated with. By putting ourselves in close proximity to our Heavenly Father in our thoughts, actions, and surroundings, we can tune ourselves to the appropriate heavenly pitch we are meant to echo and reflect. Fortunately for us, these divine influences surround us every bit as much as the noise does. The difference is that we must be properly tuned to hear and experience them. Once we learn to identify these uplifting influences they can become so powerful that they eliminate the distractions of worldly noise. (The difference between the sounds of Heaven and the sounds of Hell are that one relies on true power and the other on volume.)

To be properly tuned we need to recognize the role of noise in our everyday life and eliminate its influence as much as possible. This doesn’t mean that we can never listen to our favorite music or watch movies again (unless they drive the Spirit away by their very nature). It means recognizing when these influences become noise and then being prudent with our time and resources. The natural result of this exercise will be to fill our time with worthwhile activities that are more in line with what our Heavenly Father wants for us, and this is the second half of the solution. These worthwhile activities will expose us to heaven’s sounds and make them easier to hear and recognize.

If we do not eliminate noise from our life we risk becoming as Laman and Lemuel who were described as “past feeling”. On the other hand, as we eliminate noise we will begin to recognize that our Heavenly Father is not an absent parent. He is always there for us, as long as we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. We will then join the ranks of those who realize that “every bush is aflame with the light of God, but only those with eyes to see take off their shoes.”

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Finding Silence in the Kingdom of Noise

  1. Paul: I love the analogy of the soundboard of a piano and this observation (The difference between the sounds of Heaven and the sounds of Hell are that one relies on true power and the other on volume.) So true!!!

    When I used to work as a security guard at the Mesa Temple, I enjoyed that I was able to spend hours of quality time alone in the Temple. Even though I was “working”, I was able to enjoy the spirit of the Temple and the accompanying quite and solitude.

    Welcome to M*, my friend. Thank you for sharing this powerful message.

  2. I have to agree that most spiritual moments in my life have been when noise has been limited. Except one, great time at a temple dedication in Brazil when the entire temple seemed to be filled with heavenly choirs singing. That is a noise I would like to hear again sometime.

  3. I discovered the power of meditation during the past year, and my life has been transformed. The Lord counsels us to “be still, and know that I am God.” In our busy lives, it is so helpful to quiet out minds, still our hearts, and experience the pure love of God and the inspiration of the spirit. We talk a lot about prayer and scripture study in the Church but perhaps don’t emphasize enough the power of meditation to help us find peace, solace, and comfort.

  4. Welcome, Paul. This is a fabulous post! I also find noise in this generalized sense to be a distraction. I have to make the effort to take the quiet time for important things, and then when I’m subjected to noise it isn’t such a problem for me.

  5. Thank you and welcome Paul for your lovely post. I have a lot of noise in my life. I find yoga relaxing and it brings stillness.

  6. I loved this post.

    Used to be, one of my favorite ways of criticizing the things I involved myself in – especially online discussions – was to try to measure the “signal-to-noise ratio”. More signal, less noise, definitely. ~

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