Listening Your Way To Wonder

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- Brad Nelson

Last Spring my wife and I saw Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City, and the experience was spellbinding. I remember the buzz of the orchestra pit as the show began. The music was beautiful. The singers soared. Their voices rose and fell like the sudden crescendo and quieting of a chorus of crickets. The movement of the actors and actresses was in perfect unison with the sounds of the orchestra. It was as though they were inhabiting an intuitive dimension of reality; hearing their way through every movement.

During a scene change, the stage went dark and the orchestra began a soft and haunting song, and before I could think about anything else there were tears in my eyes. They came quickly and unexpectedly. The scene hadn’t started, but the sound of the orchestra alone did something physiological to me. It filled me with wonder. As the scene went on, I was lost in thought wondering how something as simple as a sound could be so moving-so much better than words at encompassing the longing a heart feels.

And then I started thinking about all the other sounds I’ve heard in my life that have had a similar effect.

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Years ago I spent the summer at my grandparent’s farm in the Ozark Mountains. They live in a valley on a thousand acres surrounded by miles and miles of national forest. At night I’d sleep on a bed in their screened in porch because I liked to listen to the deafening sound of katydids and tree frogs. One night, I woke around 3am and the entire valley was silent except for the song of a single whippoorwill somewhere in the valley. It echoed through the woods, and it was the loneliest sound I’d ever heard. I’ve never forgotten it. Laying there in the dark, I felt the loneliness in my bones at sound of it.

Another sound that’s burned into my memory is the sound of mourning. After my sister’s husband was killed in Iraq, the days dragged on forever. We’d go to bed early because when you sleep, if you’re lucky, it’s seven or eight hours of not having to think about things. I remember laying in the dark next to my wife hearing only the muffled sound of sniffles and breath, which I remember thinking must be the sound of a soul hemorrhaging.

But there have been good sounds too. The sound of our children breathing as they fell asleep on my shoulder, and the squeak of the rocker in the middle of the night.

Our oldest child refuses to wear socks because they slow her down on our wood floors.  Nothing delights her more than the sound of her own feet as she moves through the world, and the thump, thump, thump of her bare feet on our wood floors is the soundtrack of our home. When she goes to stay with grandma and grandpa and the house is silent, I swear if I listen hard enough I can hear the thump, thump, thump.

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I remember all these sounds and more, and their memory does something to me still because I haven’t just heard them, but I have heard them, which is to say that, in some strange way, they’ve made their home in me and I in them. I think that is maybe what Jesus is talking about in the Bible when he says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Which seems to be another way of saying, “Don’t just hear the words that I speak, but let them in. Let them happen to you. Let them change the way you perceive the world.”

We think often about learning to see the world in new ways, but it never occurred to me that hearing the world in new ways could have the same effect. Learn to listen with new ears. You might just hear your way into wonder.

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Brad Nelson is the director of teaching and worship at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara. To see more of Brad's writing check out his website bleedingoutloud.com or follow him on twitter @bradleyjnelson.