As many of you know, I just spent the last week and a half, hiking and camping in Glacier National Park. Those of you who have been there know the overwhelming beauty of that place. The massive valleys, the abundant wildlife, and the famous Going to the Sun Road all blew me away. One thing, however, caught me by surprise and it was the massive silence and solitude of the whole experience. Even though I went with a priest friend I have known for 20 years, there were huge gaps of quiet and time alone. With no cell phone service, no wifi, or tv, I was amazed how often I missed those distractions during my time away. Even though I consider myself an introvert and a reflective person, there was something challenging and even threatening about being cut-off from the outside world and having days and days which consisted largely of silence.
How surprised I was to see the readings for this weekend when I returned! In the first reading, that beautiful passage with Elijah, where he waits to experience God. There is a mighty wind, a powerful earthquake and even a fire, but God is not in any of these. Only when he heard a quiet whisper, does the prophet fall on his face in awe, knowing that God is present before him. In the gospel, after feeding the thousands in a miraculous way, Jesus hungers for what? A beer with the guys? A few hours binging on Netflix? No! Silence, solitude, quiet prayer on the mountain with his Father where he can hear the voice of God and be refreshed, renewed, and ready for another day of giving himself freely to those who need him. After his prayer, he walks on the water to join his apostles and what does he bring (after the whole Peter wanting to walk on water thing)? He brings calm and silence to the raging sea.
Our God is a God who loves silence. He does speak but more often than not, hearing what he whispers requires a heart that is quiet, calm, and attentive.
You and I, we live in a very noisy world. Certainly it has always been that way but our age faces new challenges and a new intensity of chaos and distraction. With increased connectivity and communication comes the unspoken expectation that we should be available and on-call always. A text needs to be read and responded to immediately. A phone message should be listened to and returned as soon as possible. Alerts from social media let us know the moment someone notices our photo or post. The end result, ironically, to all this communication, tends to be not a greater connection with each other or ourselves, but actually a restlessness. We are more and more anxious, insecure, and less present to each other. Notice, if you haven’t already, how often people check their phones while listening or talking to someone next to them. Observe the number of people at a meal, who pick up the phone compulsively to see what they are missing or to immediately fact-check a conversation. If it is that difficult for us to be present and attentive to each other, how much more so with God, who speaks softly in the silence?!
I’m certainly not judging the people who are addicted to their phone or who check their email 50 times a day. I have done these things myself. I’ve been called out for not being present to my friends and family before and, sadly, probably will again at some point. I’ve freaked out when the internet went down at the rectory or I lost cell service for a while. In fact, it took 8 days in God’s great mountains, to show me how much noise I invite into my daily life. With that noise I accept an unholy restlessness where I become distant and distracted to others, myself, and even God.
Silence is scary. It is difficult. It forces us to look inwards and face tough questions, the nagging ones that we try to run away from, and put off, and drown out with other seemingly more pressing matters. Most of all, silence forces us to be present, attentive, and receptive to what God and others are offering right now. Boy is that hard! It is much easier to plan, to anticipate, to be thinking about the next thing instead of living in the here and now.
We might ask, what is our comfort level with silence in our lives? DO we have any substantial quiet in our daily routines at all? Is there a meaningful period of time each day where a phone, computer, tablet, and tv does not have power over us? Is there a quiet space in our prayer for God to speak, heart to heart?
In the end, it comes down to a choice. What will be the priorities in our lives? What will take precedence? If it is going to be a holy relationship with God and healthy friendships with others then we are going to have to enter into silence often, listening and being fully present to the people around us. We can’t be afraid to step outside the noise for a little bit each day. Take a walk without music, come to the adoration chapel for 30 minutes or an hour, grab lunch with a friend and leave your phone in the car. The world will keep turning, none of us are so important that we can’t be disconnected for a little while! For us as Christians, silence is not a luxury; it is the foundation on which we build our relationship with God and become holy.
To conclude, I am going to sit down and give us all 2 minutes of silence to breathe in God’s peace and open up that space where God loves to speak.