My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.James 1:19
How often do we take the time to just stop and listen to the world around us? I don’t mean stopping and listening for something specific or expected, I mean just letting the soundscape around you, wherever you are, simply enfold you and surround you.
In what has been a time of busyness and change for me personally, I realised I haven’t really been listening to the world around me. This evening I took a wander around the area I’m currently residing in Amman and just listening.
The first thing I heard was the Adhan (Call to Prayer) for the penultimate prayer of the day. The somewhat haunting voice of the muezzin at the main mosque in Amman (unlike many mosques today this is done live rather than a recording) floating in the air telling people to ‘hasten to prayer,’ something the men sitting on the park benches outside the mosque didn’t seem to be in any hurry to do, as they caught up on the days news and rumour in the cool evening. As I passed, some of these men offered greetings in English and Arabic, offering me a seat and some coffee, I joined them and we chatted about life, work, and the weather in English and Arabic. After about 10 minutes, one of the older men, an English teacher in a boys school, turned to his friends and said ‘yalla, we should go pray.’ With that, we exchanged greetings and went our separate ways.
I carried on my journey listening to the sound steadily building as the area came to life, cafes and restaurants begin filling up, boys playing in the street offering fist bumps as I pass and testing out their English, and, as I pass a group of trees on the street, I become aware of bickering going on above me. I look up and there are a group of green parakeets bickering about the best perch for the night. They screech and squawk quietly at one another until some finally get the spot they wanted and they settle down. At the same time I am aware of another noise in the distance, a familiar sound from summers at home, a tinkling music, my Scottish brain instantly goes to ice cream van…but not here…that tinkling music belong to the vans selling gas bottles, their music, along with the recorded shouts of fruit sellers and household large recycling collectors touting for old furniture, fridges, or stoves which might be worth something, are commonplace in these streets where fresh fruit and veg is available on almost every street corner and recycling isn’t really a thing.
Continuing on, mixed with the noise of passing traffic, I’m aware of a different sound, the sound of two teenage boys hurtling down the hill in the middle of the road on their skateboards, dodging in and out of the traffic on the narrow road with cars parked either side – the pavements here aren’t suitable for skateboards unless you want to try some fancy footwork on the steps and slopes or around the street furniture that consumes the pavements forcing all but the most hardy of hillwalkers to walk on the road! I pass families and small groups of people chatting away in Arabic, English, and other languages from around the world. Cars pass constantly, some playing Arabic music with passengers clapping along, some with kids sticking their heads out of the sunroof laughing, and some blaring western music with enough bass to make you feel it as they pass. Many cars pass almost silently thanks to the number of hybrid and electric vehicles on the roads here, and all the time the hustle and bustle of people on the streets going about their business. Local shopkeepers greet me as I pass and I stop to chat with a young street photographer I’ve met a few times in the last couple of weeks. She tells me how happy she is that tourists have begun to return to Amman now that Jordan is open to tourists and many restrictions here have been lifted, although thankfully mask wearing is still very much observed in most places.
Stopped in a local cafe/restaurant for a refreshing drink surrounded by the sound of jazz standards, the cool breeze shaking the citrus trees in the outdoor seating area, people chatting happily as they relax and enjoy a drink and a hookah, and still the cars and people pass by.
I take a different route home, still the same cars and people but a different atmosphere. An area with more women in hijab where the greeting by the people you pass is Salaam rather than hello, almost everyone is chatting in Arabic, and the birds still chatter and squawk. As I approach a garden area everything changes, fewer people and an almost quiet calm. The final Adhan of the day rings out of the surrounding mosques and a young couple give me a nod as we pass. The local church bells sound and then all is quiet again.
It’s in these times of walking and listening that I process what has gone before and what is to come. I take time to listen to myself and the world around me, to listen again to the conversations I have had that day, and to listen for the voice of God in all these sounds. There are often voices of anger, joy, desperation, pleading, and many more, mixed together, but in all these things there is always the voice of God. In the men chatting and heading for prayer, in the young kids having fun and laughing with (maybe at) the westerner trying to speak Arabic, in the birds, in the bustle of life in this busy and lively city, and in the few times of quiet which come along at the most unexpected of times. My prayer is that we all take the time to listen, to really listen, to what is around us everyday and not to judge before we hear it all. May we all be slow to judge before hearing and quick to listen, and may we hear God in everything around us with every blessing to all, and may we all remember, as the sign said on the wall next to my seat in the cafe ‘with God all things are possible.’