Tinnitus and the sound of God

‘Let anyone who has an ear to hear, listen …..’ Rev 3.13

Along with many in our society I am hearing impaired. I am also one of a growing number who struggle with tinnitus*.

Strange isn’t it? In a world of incredibly sophisticated information and communication technology we are actually getting deafer.

I was sitting with a wise friend talking about the frustration of constant tinnitus. I told him my only sense of God’s response to my prayers for relief was that this would in some way become a song. It was a thought I had not actually told anyone before.
‘I know what it is’, he immediately replied. ‘It is an “ison”.’ In ancient Byzantine worship the ison is the continuous bass note held in the background by the choir. The cantors then improvise and weave the worship and prayers of the church and world around it. Theologically the ison represents the sound of God – the divine song that holds all creation in being, makes all other songs possible and gives them their freedom and extraordinary diversity. (Remember the Narnia Chronicles? Aslan sings creation into existence). Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this the ‘Cantus Firmus’. Writing within the darkness and turmoil of Nazi Germany he wrote, ‘do not fear. ‘Pin your faith in the cantus firmus’. That is still timely advice.
This struggle with deafness has become a kind of commentary on the continued challenges of living and believing in times like ours. If life is to have any nurturing depth and meaning, the ability to distinguish noise from signal is the biggest challenge we face. And the thought that the very thing that we wish most to be rid of – that we can only react to as a distraction, distorting what we think really needs saying and hearing – is actually the sound we most truly need to hear, the song that will yet save us all, is both hopeful and disturbing.

*Tinnitus is a constant or near-constant noise in the ears – the actual sound, frequency and volume varies from person to person.

2 thoughts on “Tinnitus and the sound of God

  1. David I love the reminder of Bonhoeffer’s model of tinnitus as the Ison; thank you. I have been treated now for months for hearing impairment including tinnitus and glue ear, an affliction of children normally, so at 74 I fear I am entering my second childhood.. More seriously my treating ENT consultant has been showing me how our brains process and interpret the data stream from our ears, including the isonous white noise of tinnitus, to reveal the important information one needs. As you observe this process can be a huge challenge, but I am finding the struggle does make progress through neurological learning. It has already taught me a lot about listening to the music I love, and while I fear my hearing the first cuckoo of 2021 is unlikely, pleasure and understanding are returning. Be encouraged!

    1. That you for sharing this John. You are coping with more than me on this front. Like you I am trying to return to rediscover music. Bluetooth does make a difference. Best wishes.

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