We cannot be quiet

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I sat in a coffee shop one night recently, trying to tap out a few thousand words before picking up my girls at dance. I know that it is unreasonable to expect a coffee shop to be a quiet place to work; it’s not intended to be a mocha-scented open floor plan office for any and all who wander in. It’s a gathering spot. People should gather there and enjoy coffee and conversation.

 But on this evening, every table was taken, and each of us had our tables to ourselves. No one was having in-person conversations. It should have been fairly quiet there. It wasn’t. Every time the man next to me got an email or a text message or social media notification, his phone chimed. Varying tones rang out, depending on the origin of the incoming message. The dude was super popular. And I sat there for half an hour trying to decide which would win: my inner reserve and extreme shyness or the fact that those tones might as well have been fingernails screeching across a chalkboard. I could not think for all his smartphone noise. 

We cannot be quiet. Our world is over-saturated with sensory stimulation, brimming beyond full with noisy distractions. To the ubiquitous televisions of the last generation, we have added laptops and tablets, and palm-sized computers we carry everywhere so that we are tethered to the internet and all its noisy insistence that we attend to whatever has chimed in our pockets.

We have forgotten how to be without sound. Until our society learns this spiritual discipline anew, we are going to keep missing each other and God in conversation. God calls each of us into a love affair with him — a deeply connected, intimate relationship. And the noise keeps us from connection. Both human relationships and spiritual ones require intentional reflection and uninterrupted attention. We need quiet in order to function as we were created.

For God alone, O my Soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (Ps 62:5)

Is it any wonder we look up from Twitter and Facebook and feel nothing but hopelessness? The noise there is deafening. We can’t hear each other and we can’t hear God. When we learn to quiet the noise of our increasingly noisy world, we will hear God. In his whisper are the words that give us a genuine, joy-filled life. There, we will know that he is near, and we will become aware of what keeps us from him and how much more he intends for us than what is blaring from that palm-sized screen.

Turn off all the notifications. Challenge yourself to go for increasingly longer periods without touching anything electronic. Grant yourself small windows of silence during your day. Notice. See where God is in your everyday world. See how he moves and what he says. He’s been there all along, waiting for you to be quiet enough to hear him. Lean into those moments of quiet and grow to appreciate them as the simple gifts that fill you with what is good and true.

At first, moments of silence will feel odd and awkward. We are used to being wired into the noise. But those are not circuits intended by our creator. We were created for uninterrupted communion with God. We were created to be still and drink deep from the well of his presence. Silence means we have time and space to reflect on his faithfulness. It also means we give him the opportunity to point out our transgressions. Silence brings awareness. Awareness opens us up to honesty in our relationship with God.

The spiritual practice of being quiet before the Lord might be the most practical thing you can do today. It will likely give your noisy, crowded brain a chance to connect with the reality of God. Then, your heart will open, too, allowing itself to be filled with purest love. A few moments of silence could prove to be life-changing.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

@elizabethfoss