The mouse and the cathedral

one of the things i’m most frequently teased about is how quiet i am. and it’s true that i’m on the quiet side — my default volume and habits are not what anyone would call “loud.” when i sneeze at work, one of my colleagues has been known to jest “and that’s the loudest sound she’ll make all day,” or to jokingly tell me to pipe down if i happen to yell across the room. a woman i was trying to get an on-camera interview with once looked at me and said “well, you’re just a tiny little thing!” (to her credit, i am somewhat petite; to mine, she was tipsy.) my grandpa has been asking me to speak up for about 20 years.

i don’t mind the teasing because it’s all good-natured, and because it’s true. strangely, though, i would never have thought of myself as quiet if other people hadn’t mentioned it. stephen hawking reportedly said “quiet people have the loudest minds.” i think that’s an excellent description of a lot of quiet people or introverts. we simply don’t realize we’re quiet on the outside because so much is going on internally — reflection, analyzation, creation. it’s not shouty inside my head, but it’s busy.

however, there’s another aspect of my personal quietness that i’ve become more aware of over the past year, and it’s admittedly more negative. all too often, my quietness stems from self-consciousness, from being more focused on myself and others’ perception of me than on them and making them feel loved, welcome and cared for, regardless of who they are or where we are. i’m content to stay quiet, to take a backseat role or scurry around doing background tasks (which, it’s true, do need to be done) than to step up, stick my hand out and open my heart to someone i don’t know.

and that’s another negative facet of my quietness — a fear of vulnerability. i am by nature something of a private person, and it can sometimes take a while to feel comfortable sharing deeply personal things with someone else. (but once i do feel comfortable i can literally talk people to sleep. i’ve done it multiple times, trust me.) it’s one reason why i have no problem writing poems that talk pretty freely about anger, fear, doubt or love, but have, in the past, been afraid of reading them aloud in front of other people. by reading this poem i’m looking you in the eyes and handing you a piece of myself, i’ve felt. and what are you going to do with it? the possibility of rejection, disapproval, or a simple lack of understanding is daunting, but i’ve come to realize that when i have been given a gift (as each of the “good” poems is), the important thing is that i share it with others. how they respond or what they do with it is up to them.

how i began to learn this and realize the ridiculous lengths to which i sometimes took quietness was through taking voice lessons. i love to sing. when i’m in the shower, or in my car, or feeling comfortable and brimming with mischief, i will sing at the top of my lungs without caring much what it sounds like. i was in a number of musical theatre productions from junior high through my early years of college, and, though i was usually in the chorus, i did a fair amount of singing. i first took voice lessons in my teens, at the height of my theatre involvement, and was struck with the truth that i wasn’t quite the whiz-bang singer i thought i was. my teacher was sweet and encouraging and classically trained, and did all she could to help me improve. still, when i started singing with our church’s music team on sunday mornings, i would have little whispering thoughts wondering if my voice teacher was wincing internally every time i got up there to sing. (no one ever reported wincing or asked me to stop singing, just for the record, and there were several comments to the contrary.)

so fast-forward to 2015-16 when i started taking voice lessons again, since i was singing at church more regularly and knew i wasn’t singing with proper form. my instructor this time around said the goal of our lessons was to find my true voice, and to strengthen and build on that. he — and i — quickly realized i had a problem with being loud. he told me once to laugh like santa claus. i was the most moderate, careful-sounding santa claus ever. other times he told me “be a cathedral; don’t be a mouse!”

oh, but it’s so much easier to be a mouse! people don’t notice mice much; they can’t fail to notice a cathedral. being a cathedral exposes your heart and your soul to everyone within earshot; being a mouse makes it easy to hide.

being a mouse is a weak plea to remain comfortable, unchallenged. being a mouse, in a way, is saying “no, i really don’t want to do this after all. i don’t love enough to leave safety. i don’t love enough to come to you. i’d rather stay where i am.”

but that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus came, without any regard for His own safety or comfort. Jesus spoke, Jesus sang. He didn’t go around shouting all the time — and i’m not trying to imply that anyone should do that, or that quietness is less valuable than volume — but neither was He timid, self-conscious, afraid to open Himself to others.

for the past six days i’ve been more or less without a voice. when i try to speak above a whisper my words come out pitchy, hoarse, broken, and only about one in five is audible. if i want to say anything more than a sentence or two in length i’ve had to resort to writing it down. i spent many moments of the past work week walking around to a coworker’s cubicle to stand right by their chair and say something in as loud of a whisper as i could muster, where normally i would have just said it from across the room (and probably repeated it at a louder volume).

the enforced silence has made me realize what a privilege and what a gift it is to be able to speak, to sing, to shout, even. God gave us voices to be used, and if we refuse or are hestitant to use them for His glory, to make people feel loved and welcome, or to speak truth where it needs to be spoken (always with love), then we’re neglecting a responsibility that the privilege of being God’s child brings with it. (note: i realize some people are genuinely physically unable to speak, or have great difficulty and/or discomfort in speaking because of physical conditions. i am not at all suggesting that people in those circumstances are selfish or complacent in not speaking audibly. God gives many forms of speaking, after all.)

my two new year’s goals or resolutions are rest easy and pursue people. the first deserves its own post, but on the second, i really want to learn to speak and to pursue people from a heart of love, from a mindset that is others-focused and not so concerned about myself. i want to learn to see other people the way Jesus sees them and appreciate them as His beloved creations who are in need of redemption or are redeemed and are being restored. this year, i want to learn to speak and to sing with strength. i want to stop being a mouse and learn to be a cathedral.