When You Say Nothing At All
A couple of decades ago I could cram for a history exam, carry on a conversation with a dorm room full of people, sing along to the radio, and watch MTV in the background (I told you it was decades ago – when there was actual music on MTV) all at the same time. And I could do so with a great deal of proficiency. I still try my hand at multitasking today, like simultaneously writing a column, carrying on a conversation with my wife, and checking my Twitter feed. Such attempts now end in calamity, as I can no longer recall what I wrote, said, or read unless I’m focused on one thing, or one person, at a time.
Part of my declining competence is age. Researchers, using magnetic resonance imaging, have discovered that as we grow older, we lose the ability to tune out distractions and background noises. It’s a type of age-induced attention deficient disorder, which probably explains why I also find that big crowds and overwrought productions are losing their appeal. But some of it is the maturity that accompanies age. As silver has begun to overtake my temples and chin whiskers, I have lost patience for the trivial. I have little tolerance for nonsense. No, not the kind of funny, joyful nonsense that can keep one young; but the crazed, ridiculous “noise” of our society, the constant hullabaloo of cable news, social media timelines, popup ads, and the frantic need to stay “connected.”
This leads to the spiritual dynamic, the spiritual discipline, of stillness. It’s good for our souls to be quiet. “Be still and know that I am God,” is the admonition from the Hebrew Psalms. In a world that is a cauldron of boiling, bubbling, roaring upheaval, God, it appears, refuses to compete. God refuses to raise a voice over the clamor. Instead, you will find God in the quiet, in the stillness, and in the silence. This is how a walk in the woods, with only the sound of the breeze and your footsteps beneath you, can become a regular sacrament. This is how a silent, comfortable room – any room – can become sacred space. This is how a few hours each week of doing and saying absolutely nothing, can allow God to speak in ways you could never hear from within the pandemonium.
So turn off the television for a while. Go put your iPhone on its charger for a few hours. Take a Facebook sabbatical. Resist the insufferable desire to always “be where the action is.” Yes, I know there is a living to be made, kids to raise, ball games to attend, opinions to share, parties to attend, and politics to be argued. There’s plenty of time for all of that. But if you don’t take a “time out” now and again for yourself, whatever noise you might add to the mix will be exactly that: Noise, and it will be only your soul that suffers the sounds of silence.