Sound as a Representation of God and an Aid to Prayer

Soundscape plays an important role in conversation, as with most communication. But this doesn’t just apply to conversation with other human beings – in religious places of worship, for instance, an appropriate soundscape is vital for a healthy “conversation” – prayer, in this case – for the worshipers. I focus on, in particular, Atlanta’s “Cathedral of Christ the King.”

By opening the door to the cathedral, one already marks the most apparent component of the cathedral’s soundscape (and arguably is the “keynote” of the soundscape): echo. The echo fills the interior of the cathedral with the creak of the door hinge, piercing the silence for but a moment. The echo amplifies other sounds as well, the most common being the flipping of Bible pages or the footsteps of people. Near the back, the choir can occasionally be heard as they practice for the next mass, their soft singing supplying for an otherwise still background. However, the majority of people arrive to pray in silence and privacy.

Certainly, one cannot face god and converse normally as with another human, so one goal of the cathedral is to represent the presence of god instead. The echo achieves this by adding an encompassing effect to other sounds produced, immersing the cathedral and surrounding those praying. This correlates to god’s omnipresent nature – that (according to Catholic belief) he is everywhere, filling the cathedral much like the echo; this is greatly strengthened by the inclusion of the chorus, acting as a background noise that demonstrates the “heavenly nature” of god.

The privacy of prayer is also important, in the way that one in a private conversation does not want to be eavesdropped on. The echo improves the supposed privacy by indicating an emptiness in the environment, signifying that the “conversation” is truly between the worshiper and god alone.

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