A noise level of 60 decibels is considered safe and acceptable for human beings. Higher levels of surrounding noise can be harmful and extremely high levels can even cause permanent damage to the ears. During the ten days of the annual Ganesh festival, there is greatly heightened religious fervour all over Maharashtra, accompanied by a manifold increase in the ambient noise due to blaring loud speakers and beating of drums. In spite of legal restraints, in 2015, on the last day of idol immersion, Mumbai broke all records as the noise levels touched 123 decibels in some areas.
Whenever there is a public show of any religion, noise becomes a part of the proceedings. In fact, the Bible repeatedly calls upon all people to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” (Psalm 66:1, 98:4, 100:1) Nowadays we find that more and more traditional Christian church services are being replaced by what is called “prayer and worship” which is just another name for joyful noise. I remember one such service which began with the proud announcement that it had Dolby Atmos installed in the auditorium!
Communication engineers use a term known as signal-to-noise ratio. The object of telecommunication is to send a signal from one place to another and also to ensure that the signal reaches the destination without loss or distortion. As the noise increases, the signal strength fades relatively, and so it is important to maintain a high signal-to-noise ratio.
The same is true in respect of our prayers. I happened to be in a gathering of fervent Christians in a hall in Pune, on a day when Ganeshotsav was being celebrated all over the city. In terms of noise, the shouts of Yeshu Masih ki Jai Bolo and the music of the band together could have drowned the chants of Ganapati Bappa Moraya in other places. The joyful noise of Christian worshippers was so high and the signal-to-noise ratio of their prayers so low, that I wondered how anyone could pray meaningfully while great noise was polluting their prayers. Yes, making a joyful noise unto the Lord is good, but only if we ensure that our prayers reach his ears and are not lost in the din.