Tuesday, July 01, 2014

White Noise and Tuning the soul

The move from analogue television to digital television has eliminated to a great extent the phenomenon of White Noise. White noise (as the older of us remember) was that sort of space between television or radio stations characterised by the random pattern on the screen and the familiar hiss. It is a completely random and full spectrum phenomenon which has its origins in the Big Bang. In some sense, gazing into white noise or paying attention to its sound is like peering into the origins of the Universe.To some, it is relaxing; to others, it conjures up the frustration of trying to tune into a favourite television programme and failing miserably.

Tuning a radio means essentially locating the frequency of a specific wavelength which carries the radio signal. This used to be rather a hit and miss activity. With so many frequencies out there, white noise was always going to be encountered. Sometimes it leaked into a badly tuned radio frequency and became known as interference.

Interference is certainly something that affects our daily lives. I've been thinking on the nature of institional entropy lately and how noise is creeping into much of our lives. We have information coming out of our ears, some of which conflict sharply with other pieces of information. Philosophy is not immune to this, certainly. As David Bentley Hart points out, Philosophy itself is a product of the prevailing fashion. We now live in an age of many philosophies in tension which have resulted from various reductionisms and deconstructionisms. We have deconstructed our milieux so far that the pieces are pinging about causing interference and noise.

Science itself is not immune. There are so many rival theories for the crown of theory of everything, that disentangling the mess is like trying to lay a badly fitting carpet in a room where you're not sure where the corners are. There are those who believe that our minds are simply the phenomena emergent from neurological white noise.

This confusion can be seen as rather soul-destroying as one looks and tries to make sense of why our lives are unhappy or frustrated and why the systems around us designed to organise our lives are making things harder. Human politics is very contradictory. In England, it is very possible to make more money by earning less. Different parts of Law pull against other bits and produce confusion and even some forms of injustice.

The remedy I personally try to turn to is prayer, even then this can be difficult.Often the mind is busy trying to deal with the crowds of thoughts about the day, thoughts about what to bring to God, thoughts which distract. Prayer, done apophatically, is like tuning out the clutter of thoughts and signals from the outside world into white noise. Why white noise? As I said earlier, white noise has its origins in the Big Bang. Where better to find God than at the origins of the Universe? We will not find communion with God in the ceaseless chatter in our heads. Unless God has specific reasons for doing so, He does not speak to us in the various versions of our voice in our heads. Our prayer must begin with returning to the white noise so that our time and space become mere accidents of our being.

Once we are there, then perhaps we can take out our prayerbooks and begin the process of tuning into God's expression in our Universe. This expression is twofold, the Word and the Spirit, both of whom have their Eternal "Origins" in the Father. We hear the human voice of God in His Son translated to our souls by the Holy Ghost, the "breath of God". Our rule of prayer must be specific, regular and robust to allow us the discipline of focus to find God in our lives.

I believe that prayer needs to be both apophatic and kataphatic in good measure, moving from one to the other. My own preference (when life allows me) is to pass from apo- to kataphatic prayer as I mention above. That's because I'm an introvert. I wonder whether extraverts prefer to go in the other direction. As a Benedictine, my prayer life must be both as I have the rule of prayer (dictated by both Breviary for my oblation, and BCP for my Anglican Priesthood) which gives me the focus and direction I need, when I do it correctly!

However, with life becoming noisier for all of us, time to tune out is certainly a way forward to avoid Weltschmerz and cognitive dissonance. The love for neighbour is found in the bigger picture than our lives often present to us as we focus ever more and more upon the reductions that our cultures impose. When we the leave the letter of the law and find the spirit of the law, then we can find the flexiblity to treat those around us as human beings worthy of respect and love, as God demonstrates. God help us all to be more diligent in prayer!

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