As I mentioned in a previous post I did my spiritual retreat at a hotel set in a mall, West Edmonton mall to be exact.
I took two books to reflect on along with my bible and iPod which I used to listen to a podcast of daily prayers.
I spoke earlier about silence and how often I find myself craving it or noting how I fill it with noise because I am anxious or lonely. Chapter two in Barbara Brown Taylor's book, When God is Silent, addresses silence. She reminds us that communication has a higher value than contemplation. That one line resonated with me. Especially the example that she used, with all of us carrying cell phones (I myself carry two or three depending on whether I am on duty), jumping up to answer them as the banner unfurls over our head saying we are necessary. I would add to this with the ringing phone says we are important. (As a side note I often when I am meeting with folks ignore my phone if I have forgotten to turn off the ringer, and must say it’s fascinating to watch people’s discomfort with that ringing phone.)
We have been having issues at work with the students carrying cell phones into classes or into operational areas where cell phones are not allowed and getting distracted by texts and other messages coming to them. As the Coxan often questions, what is so important that you need to text your sweetie multiple times during the hour? And he is right. Are minute by minute updates of what we are eating, wearing or where we are going, are they really meaningful and important?
It’s not until we are relieved of that burden that we experience silence. Take the young person who was confined to barracks as part of punishment a few weeks ago. They had done something they shouldn’t have at work, and for seven days they lived on base, not at home, went to work and then returned to a small room which has about as much appeal as a nun’s cell. Think Whoopie Goldberg’s reaction in her first Sister Act when she is taken to her room in the convent and you get the idea. Those who are so designated to stay in such a setting are technologically bereft which leaves them the struggle of a silent room, their own company and the chore of polishing kit for inspection. Part of the punishment is the opportunity to think on their actions and how to correct them. I wonder how many don’t get that opportunity because they are so affected by the silence and their fear of it that they cannot process the behavior they performed.
Have you ever considered that God is more present in silence than in words? That our best words cannot do more than aspire to point at God who is beyond them? Within every congregation I have ministered with and to, I am acutely aware of the need for silence in our worship life. Yes it is easy to cruise full steam through song and prayer and other liturgical pieces, but silence is the opportunity to digest, to gnaw on the Word of God even if it is unspoken and more a feeling.