What I Heard This Morning in the City at 5:30am


In typical Monday morning fashion, the trash guys toss a garbage bin too close to the car parked in front of our house. Apparently the car isn’t happy about it, and in our noisy culture we’ve even given our automobiles the ability to respond.

whoooooooop whoooooooop whoooooooop beep beep beep beep beep

I roll over and look at the clock. 5:30am. I push back the warm covers, cross the room, and close the window. The car alarm is immediately muffled, as if it is a few blocks away and not just under the sycamore tree. I listen to see if the noise has woken Leo, but he’s a city baby, born and raised on James Street (unlike me, unlike our other kids). He sleeps through it.

I walk downstairs and boil water for coffee, thinking this would be a good time to practice some silence, to sit in the quiet and center my mind for the day ahead. I sit in a dining room chair and close my eyes, repeating a section from the Book of Common Prayer in my mind:

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly;

A few minutes later, I hear…what is that sound…is it water dripping? My mind is snapped back to earthly things (this isn’t really working). I stand up. I listen again. I follow it into the kitchen. My boiling water has flown the coop, overflowing its pot. Water drips on to the stove top, hissing and bubbling.

I make a cup of coffee and return to my chair. Close my eyes.

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly;

Then the sudden crashing of a truck hitting a pothole on Prince Street; the exploding sound of construction workers dropping a skid load of cement blocks in the vacant lot behind our house; and when it’s a sound not quite so obvious, the rushing of water through the pipes.

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly;

* * * * *

This business of finding silence, especially in our world, is a difficult one. Noise has infiltrated every space, has set up camp in our minds, and by now we don’t even recognize it. It lends a comforting numbness to our existence, an easy excuse to pretend the important things in the world don’t exist. Most importantly, the noise allows us to ignore the small voice speaking to us about the true state of our being.

This business of finding silence has never been more important. Without it, without the wisdom of that small voice, we respond from our own earthly perspectives of selfishness and hate. We are too easily influenced by the American dream or our particular strain of political leanings, and in that moment we miss the movement of the Kingdom. In the noisy moments, we bypass a response of love and instead respond out of fear…or anger…or frustration.

* * * * *

All of the most important conversations I’ve had with God, the most difficult revelations about myself, the most influential thoughts: these have had one thing in common. They’ve come in the silence.

In my own experience, I’ve found that if we do not make room for silence, God or our minds or our subconscious (blame whoever you want) will force it upon us. It’s a natural safety mechanism. It’s like the forests in Yellowstone, overgrown, trees too close together, a forest fire waiting to happen. One metaphorical lightning strike in your life, and you’ll find yourself in a bleak landscape, surveying the misty smoke and the silence, finally able to recognize the chaos you had once been living in.

Finally able to hear the small voice.

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly.

4 Replies to “What I Heard This Morning in the City at 5:30am”

    1. Thanks, Seth. I appreciate that quite a lot. Too be honest, sometimes it doesn’t feel like too many people care about silence. But I’ll keep shouting about it. If that makes any sense.

  1. My husband and I are considering moving to Lancaster city in the new year to hopefully get away from some of the noise in Philly. Maybe that’s too much to hope for? ;)

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