Noise is inarticulate sound. It expresses little or nothing. It does not mean.
I’m reminded of an elementary school memory. A music teacher, bent on helping us distinguish noise from music, asked us for examples of each. It was, at best, a naive errand, a tilting at windmills. We were, after all, nine years old and half of us were boys.
A friend of mine whose father—like my own—drove very big trucks for Nelson’s Express, said ‘a Mack truck’. Our optimistic teacher, anticipating a higher level of artistic discernment than she was going to get from us in a million years, staggered momentarily but visibly back on her heels.
‘Noise, you mean?’
‘No’, my friend clarified. ‘Music.’
Little boys’ rugged insistences nothwithstanding, we usually expect textured communication from our music. We want to be moved rather than assaulted, persuaded rather than overcome.
Yet, knowing this, we misunderstand the emptiness of activity without love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Ever driven by his encounter with Christ, yet reticent to elevate his own mystical experience, Paul is prepared to drain the common ‘religious’ actions of all value if they do not proceed from love. Though he will not press the point to that ludicrous extreme that demands absolute purity of motive before any action can be endorsed, Paul knows that there is a doing that is merely, grotesquely loud.
A Mack truck with no beloved father behind the wheel, a cymbal relentless banged with no symphony for context, a vapid ‘concern for the poor’ with no actual knowing of a poor woman, of a man whose life has ground him limp, of a child with empty, abandoned eyes. A loud hymn with no tenderness. ‘Hallelujah’ without a catch in the throat. Prayer without tears.
Paul is, arguably, the ultimate realist. Unwilling to hive chunks of life off into separate categories, he insists—both in and between the lines—that it matters what one believes, what one feels, what one days, what one does. And how. And why.
A world of pious motion comes so quickly to its deserved collapse.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.