By Jeremy Cannada
Jeremy is the pastor of Amelia Presbyterian Church in Amelia Court House, VA. He was a participant last year in the Pastoral Development Seminars at First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota. You can read more about the Pastoral Development Seminars here.
So many sounds fill my ears: background music while I write, telephones ringing during the day, text notifications in the night, the Word’s words replaying throughout the week, echoes of church members, children’s laughter, and widow’s cries. Depending on the day, these sounds may seem symphonic or cacophonic, especially as they become the metaphor for something greater. Yet, in the midst of the noise, I am learning how good it is to listen for the subtle tones of whispers and even silence.
Between holy bells and anthems and the incessant clatter of the world filling our ears, God still speaks, but do we hear—even if God speaks with a thunderous voice ? I opine that God’s voice is not deafening; God whispers softly and tenderly—all the more reason for us to listen more intently. The church deeply needs for its ministers and members to pause and allow distractive sounds to subside.
Becoming a genesis member of the Pastoral Development Seminar at the First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota offered a whispered invitation to the quiet my soul had been craving, even though I had not recognized its famish. Having served as a Teaching Elder for over two years, my soul’s ears had already developed tinnitus, resulting from the mundane and holy sounds overlapping each other, outplaying one another, and disappearing all together. Like those people on the Exodus journey through the wilderness, I sometimes felt lost. I ached. I hungered. I thirsted. I listened. But for what ?
I suspected I knew the answers to this question, but it was not until I gathered with other colleagues—from the heartland, a university town, a metropolitan center, the Appalachian foothills, and a rural village—that I was able to rediscover or keep kindled the Spirit’s whispers. It amazes what those four days in October and again in February did for the group and me. Church had provided us the real ministry at which seminary only hints; finally, we were able to share stories with others who heard them and understood. We conversed. We cried. We laughed. We shared. We learned. We bonded. We became friends.
We were reminded that all sounds are holy, regardless of their decibels, through that Florida congregation’s hospitality, the staff and volunteers’ kindness, and the seminar’s pastoral leaders’ generosity. We were encouraged to listen to the sounds, even when they may emanate from within us, and we encouraged each other to remember what it means to speak softly in hushed tones.
Since the seminar, I have tried to listen more intently for the whisper—and the silence. I listen for God’s song, and the once loud tinnitus in my soul’s ears has diminished greatly. Yes, the symphony still plays, and the cacophony still clashes, but I am able to hear better than ever. I am still trying to find my way, and with my new “sound” appreciation, I remain ever thankful for a congregation in Sarasota, whose name means “place to dance.”