“What Do You Hear in These Sounds?” or God is in the Noise

"His Master's Voice"
“His Master’s Voice”

I love wrestling with angels. I love the give and take of a good argument. I love finding those places in life where you can let your hair down and not have to edit every word that comes out of your mouth. I love nothing better than a good honest conversation about things that really matter. At my wise old age of 59, I no longer abide small talk nor do I suffer fools gladly. I love folks who do not take themselves too seriously. And I love equally those who do take what they do seriously. I love folks who can laugh at themselves. O my goodness, I love to laugh! I love thinking out loud with others – especially with others called to serve the craziness we call church. This is why I love working with seminarians. This is why I have loved being in clergy colloquy groups of many kinds.

“Colloquy” according to vocabulary.com is the “opposite of a chat”.

“Colloquy” in church parlance is where half a dozen clergy come together once a month or so to wrestle with angels. Each meeting one at a time the members of the group take turns presenting “event accounts”. An event account is a one page, single spaced description of anything at all, no matter how large or small, that happened at that pastor’s parish. The only criteria is that it be a conundrum that has left the presenter scratching their head.

And recently a clergy colloquy group provided me with a conundrum of my own.

After we had met all of two times, a member  (who is a therapist by trade) asked me via answering machine to “process the group dynamics.”

Telephone tagging back and forth, I said that I would be happy to talk with him. Please I asked, as the tone of his inquiry struck me as odd, tell me up front what you would like to talk about. Trying to clarify and keep healthy boundaries, I told him I didn’t I have a lot of time this week but I would be happy to talk to him on the phone. “Just want to talk about how the group is settling in” he said.” And its so much more fun to process this stuff in person.” O so not true, it turns out on both counts.

And so against my better judgment, I sat down that Friday with him after work  in a conference room and said. Alright friend, what exactly is it that you would like to talk about?

And this is what he told me. “Joani, do you know that in the group that you make sounds? Do you know that when others are talking you make sounds in different tones? And do you know that these sounds that you make are distracting and that these sounds make you the center of attention? Has anyone ever told you this before?”

I sat there silent as a post (making no sound:)). I said, no. No, in twenty years of parish ministry no one had ever told me that. No vestry member, no colleague, no coworker, no parishioner, no Sunday School teacher, no organist, no administrative assistant, no choir member, no committee chair, not a single person in the pew had ever told me that.

Then he sat back in his chair, stroked his chin and said “Please help me to understand what is behind this behavior”. And then like a blithering idiot (and I am no idiot) for fifteen minutes I tried to explain myself. “I am an extrovert. I am a middle child. I am a translator. I am a peace maker. I think out loud. I am a people person.” On and on I went until he told me he had gotten what he came for.

In my car on my way home after this bizarre exchange I said to myself “What the hell was that?” The therapist, and not my therapist, had done his best to climb inside my head. What was my bipolar brain thinking?  Compliantly I over-shared as if he had been my father. And despite it being none of his damn business, he asked me this question, “What do you hear in these sounds?”

O so ironically, “What do you hear in these sounds?” is actually the refrain to a fabulous song by Dar Williams. A fabulous song about therapy.

“I don’t go to the therapy to find out if I’m a freak

I go and find the one and only answer every week

And its just me and all the memories to follow

Down any course that fits within a fifty minute hour

And we fathom all the mysteries, explicit and inherent and

When I hit a rut, she says to try the other parent

And she’s so kind, I think she wants to tell me something,

But she knows that its much better if I get it for myself

And she says

Oooooooh, aaaaaah, What do you hear in these sounds?

And ooooooh, aaaaaaah,

What do you hear in these sounds?”

There is no better place to take one’s bipolar brain than to therapy. Talk, talk, talk is really so much more than it is often chalked up to be. Besides regular chemical adjustments with medication, talk therapy has been clinically proven to help us crazy people keep our heads on straight.

Psychotherapy is not the same thing as psychoanalysis. The latter is what Woody Allen does in all his movies stretched out on a leather couch, the analyst behind him in a wing chair puffing on his pipe. No psychotherapy is much more like taking your brain to Jiffy Lube. Besides getting your oil changed regularly there is a 39 point checklist. The categories on my therapist’s chart relate to all things emotional, social, physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and intellectual. Everything you do requires your brain. Likewise everything that you do affects  your brain. Getting this all straight a week or two at a time is what helps to keep my bipolar brain healthy and happy and buzzing along. Thank you, thank you, Mary Ray, LCSW.

So God is in the noise and Elijah got it wrong. God is in the earthquake. God is in the storm. God is in the crashing waves. God is in the craziness. God may even be in the silence.

So friends, lean in and listen. “What do you hear in these sounds?”

Pax vobiscum,


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