In the church I served before coming to Holy Apostles, my office was on the same floor as the Preschool that rented space from us and occupied the Parish Hall every weekday. We also lived in a Rectory that was situated directly in between the school and the playground where the young students spent their time outside. When we first arrived, I was very aware of the sounds coming from the children as they went through their days. Other than naptime in the early afternoon (theirs, not mine!), the hours in my office and in my home were punctuated by laughter and tears, by the clatter of toys and the music from impromptu percussion bands.

Slowly, over time, I incorporated the energetic sounds of my Preschool neighbors learning and playing into the rhythm of my daily life. I didn’t always register what was happening or when, but I acclimated to the sounds around me. In fact, I depended on that lively background noise. I found myself sustained by the joyful energy floating through the corridors and the property outside. The days when the school would go on a field trip were jarring—the silence when they were away was more distracting then having them on site!

Now I have a new office, facing East, with lots of green outside my windows, a small park on one side and a basketball court on the other. The apartment where we live has very little access to green space, so I appreciate the first view that awaits me when I come to work every morning. And if the windows are open, I hear outside activity that buoys my spirits: dogs barking, a pickup basketball game, kids on scooters or learning how to ride a bike. I am starting to depend on this new noise as I once did on the noise in my former church. As grateful as I am for air conditioning, I am also pleased when I can turn it off and allow the natural sounds from the environment around me into my workspace.

Some of the parables Jesus shares highlight how the context in which we live our faith affects our ability to respond to God’s presence in our lives. Seeds can be sown, but if they try to grow in arid soil or surrounded by weeds they don’t stand a chance. Focusing on the aspects of our environment that fill our hearts and sustain our spirits can nurture our faith in all sorts of mysterious ways.

We don’t always have a choice about the sights and sounds that come along with our surroundings. For every idyllic moment of hearing laughter and watching birds in trees there is another of shrieking sirens and incivility. That’s just part of getting through our days, especially in the city. But mindfulness when we do have a choice can make a big difference in our psycho-spiritual self-care. If the background music we choose for our lives is strident or distressing, and if we subject ourselves to it consistently it can lead us to a place of despair. But if we commit instead to listening for sounds of life—and Life—we may find ourselves strengthened for our journey.