amidst the noise

For the entire week at preachers’ camp at the lake,
I didn’t read or write.

I noticed that
in the midst of the week—
that while I had taken out my books, I wasn’t reading them,
that while I had with me my notebook and pencil, I wasn’t writing.

Russ, you see, one of us preachers,
had been diagnosed with vocal cord paresis.
Not sure why.
He had whooping cough earlier this summer,
and the virus could have attacked his vocal cords,
or was it the sheer strain of the coughing,
or a combination of the two?

We weren’t good for him.
Well, as his wife generously put it,
we were good spiritual, emotional, mental medicine for him,
but we were not good for his vocal cords.

He’s now been told to resume complete silence
and to see a speech pathologist
as he continues to live with the stress
of as yet unanswerable questions—
about whether his vocal cords have been damaged
to the point that they can’t recover,
about what that might mean for his job—
his calling into pastoral ministry—
if his capacity for public speaking is effected.

So words took on a new urgency that week—
more weight—
a greater significance.
And outside the planning work we were doing,
I didn’t read or write all week.

I’m worried about Russ’ vocal cords
though I remain hopeful that this too shall pass.
I’m not worried about Russ.
There’s too much to him not to overcome what he faces.
I’m not even real worried about his calling to ministry.
He is still, after all, Russ—
with all those same thoughts churning around
deep down in there somewhere—
those same startlingly relevant insights into culture and Scripture—
that same passion to embrace the truths offered to us
both by the discoveries of science and the affirmations of faith—
without compromising the integrity of either.
That’s all still going on—
just without the ease of communication
to which we’ve become accustomed
(ease of communication always having been a relative term
when it comes to processing what Russ says!
He’s the only preacher I know to have incorporated
“antidisestablishmentarianism” into a sermon!).

I treasure Russ’ voice.
I anticipate what more he has to say—
however he’ll end up saying it.

And so for me … and for us—
his trials come as reminder,
within the wordiness of our culture,
it’s not just about cultivating words worth saying;
but also about working to listen for words worth hearing.

And sometimes, amidst all the noise, there are just whispers.

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