I live in an apartment complex in a densely populated suburb. Occasionally, I hear sounds from other apartment units. Sometimes it is a ringing telephone. Sometimes a bit of music. In warmer weather, I can often hear the whirring noise of air conditioners. Last week, my ears picked up a louder than usual susurration. The volume was such that I could hear it inside even if I shut all my doors and windows. “This will not do,” I said to myself.
I resolved to pinpoint the source of the noise. I went outside and listened carefully to my building. I could hear the sound, but the noise was not coming from anywhere inside or near the building. I walked around the property on which the building sits. Again, the sound was distinctly audible but with no discernible source. I walked around the neighborhood. “It is coming from the west,” I thought, so I marched off to the west. After a few blocks, the noise was clearly coming from the south, so off I went. But it came from the north, too.
Frustrated, I wondered if road crews were using equipment at sites around the area. Workers are replacing a bridge near me and there is also a great deal of gas main work in the township. I wondered if a store or apartment complex had installed a very large air conditioning unit. I contacted my town government to ask for advice. I explained that the noise kicks in each morning between 8am and 10am and subsides at some point in the evening. A staffer directed me to contact the public works office the next time I heard the noise.
This morning, the noise returned. I called the public works office and politely explained my situation and my desire that the noise cease. I provided my address. The inspector said he would look into it. Two hours later, he called back. He announced that the sound was the sound of cicadas.
This news humbled and embarrassed me. So accustomed to a mechanized life, it never occurred to me that I might be hearing something biological, something living. I make a point now of keeping windows open so that I can hear this sound of life.
Liturgy can be like that. I can find something in liturgy to be a distraction or something to tune out when in fact it is the sound of life or the call of God’s grace inviting me to realize anew that I am among a people loved by God though I and we so often overlook or misrecognize the divine in our lives.
If liturgy can be like that, it is only because life itself can be like that.