I’ll never forget the experience of landing in Chicago after eight weeks on a student abroad trip to India – the silence was deafening! I had come to find the constant honking of horns, as well as the hustle and bustle of the many people in India, to be joyful sounds of vibrancy and life. While I was looking forward to coming home to the comparatively gentler noise of my own city, I had learned that the way we think about a disturbing clamor can actually allow us to see it transformed into joyful noise and to feel at peace.
Before going to India, I had been told that all my senses would be “assaulted” there. I wanted to embrace this opportunity to love the rich and vibrant tastes, smells, and sounds of another culture, and as a student of Christian Science it was natural for me to turn to the Bible for assurance. I found it interesting that in the King James Bible, there are 70 references to “noise.” While some of them have a negative connotation, many of them have positive implications – such as “make a joyful noise unto God” (Psalms 66:1).
As I read, I began to note that making a joyful noise unto God was a powerful offensive tool. For instance, when several enemy groups came to attack King Jehoshaphat, he gathered his people together to sing praises to God instead of going to battle, and the enemy attack failed (see II Chronicles 20:1-22).
This points to a concept of joy that is more than just a positive attitude. In fact, it belongs to our very nature as the creation of God, infinite good. I’ve found that “joyful noise” does not necessarily need to be loud at all; it can also be quiet gratitude for God’s goodness. And this kind of awareness and active acknowledgment of the power and presence of God heals, protects, and sustains us. It helps us see that inharmony, pain, and fear don’t have the power they seem to.
So I decided that I would let the advance guard of joy go before me as I went to India. With this approach, I felt more deeply the proclaiming ever-presence of God, divine Life – even amid all the noises I heard, from the early morning calls to prayer from the minarets, to the scooters and rickshaws honking their way through the intricate weaving of traffic. I was delighted to recognize so many spiritual qualities, such as dedication, order, harmony, and beauty, in it all. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by these noises, I felt even more aware of the glory of God.
I was grateful that I could draw upon this happy memory recently when celebratory noise from a wedding threatened to disrupt an all-day inspirational meeting I had been preparing for over many months, and which I was conducting in a hotel conference room. At first it was just some gentle notes wafting up to us from a string quartet immediately below our room. But over our lunch break a rock band started up and the floor was literally throbbing. I had no idea how we would be able to conduct our afternoon session over that racket.
So I reached out to God in prayer – not so much to get the wedding celebrants to be quiet, but to see that the joyful sounds of this wedding and the joyful message of our meeting did not have to be in competition with each other. I thought of them as one coordinated chorus of praise to God.
Just as our meeting started up for the afternoon session, the music quieted down, and it remained that way until we adjourned, when it began rocking the floor again. To me this was more than human coincidence. Prayer had enabled me to better understand that God, divine Mind, governs all of its spiritual creation in one grand harmony, and the result was to see, without any manipulation, that we could all participate in making a joyful noise without conflicting with each other.
At times tumult may threaten to disturb our peace, but we can find that “the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea” (Psalms 93:4). And we can feel the peace of God that unites us all in joyful noise, or brings appropriate quiet!