January 13, 2023

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Learning to listen in a noisy world

Christina CapecchiI have loved photography for years. And I think I finally found my niche: snow photography. Every time it snows—which is frequent here in Minnesota—I grab my phone, slip into my boots and start snapping.

Some prefer their trees laced with pink apple blossoms or blazing with red maple leaves. Me? I’ll take an evergreen drooping with snow.

A fresh snow renders the world new again, lifting a two-dimensional scene into 3D, illuminating every branch on every tree. Had that underbrush been there all this time? Was the backyard always so dense and layered?

Purple shadows stripe the white canvas like strokes of watercolor paint.

Adding to the sense of mystery: the silence. There is a lull after a snowfall —before the snowplow grinds in, before shovelers and shoppers venture out, before a single footprint breaks its smooth surface. The world stands still.

And it is quiet.

This is nature’s acoustics. It’s not our perception, not simply a lack of traffic, the buzz of neighborhood activities brought to a halt. There’s scientific proof that a few inches of freshly fallen snow absorb sound. Everything sounds muted, padded.

In our modern world, where it can be nearly impossible to turn off all the noise, this quiet feels like a gift from above.

St. John of the Cross said, “God’s first language is silence.”

This is how he first speaks to us—before the priest reaches the pulpit, before the tulips bloom, before the newborn cries.

But we cannot hear his voice if we don’t intentionally seek out silence. It takes discipline to shut off the channels. Not all the noise is negative. But taken together, it is definitely too much.

If you want a fresh start in 2023, make space for silence. This is how life was intended—before busyness became a badge of honor, before the advent of social media, named after the noise they make: Twitter, TikTok. Every second filled with sound.

When silence washes over us, we can open our minds and hearts. What am I afraid of? What am I ignoring? What is God asking of me?

These questions can be uncomfortable. Quiet time helps us grapple with them.

I’ve recently taken up painting. I set up shop in our unfinished basement, spreading butcher paper across the Ping-Pong table and playing the “Mamma Mia!” soundtrack.

At first, it energized me. Then I switched to instrumental music, which felt better. Finally, I turned it off altogether, and that felt best of all. I could listen to the house—the steady hum, water whooshing through it, the groans and creaks. At times, they were surprisingly loud. It almost felt like being in conversation with the house, learning by listening.

Maybe we avoid silence because stimulation delays contemplation, because we fear emptiness. But silence is not empty or devoid. It contains layers of information—often subtler and richer.

I want these ordinary days to reflect my highest priorities. Setting aside my hunger for external validation will help me get there.

I’m planning to begin this new year by seeking quiet. I’m hoping it will help me connect to God and see the beauty in my midst. I want to operate with a sense of place: this groaning house, this patch of sunlight in the basement, that old oak at my side.

Tomorrow, we’re expecting 7 inches of snow. I’ll be out there, tiptoeing under the canopy of white—breathing in, looking up, listening for God’s first language.
 

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)

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