Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sometimes Quiet is Violent: Finding Silence in a World Full of Noise

From time to time, we all find ourselves pondering the deepest questions in life, ones about what apologist Matt Fradd refers to as G.L.U.E. (God, Life, the Universe, and Everything).  Some people just call them the "biggies."  These questions include:

"What is the meaning of my life?"
"Is there a reason for my existence?"
"Does God exist?"
"What happens when we die, if anything?"

When asked for his opinion about questions like these in an interview, the atheist Richard Dawkins responded, "The 'why' questions are the silly questions."  It's interesting how the questions we have most wanted answered throughout human history, the questions that have provoked in us the most wonder and deep thought are the "silly" questions.  This is one of the tragedies of atheism – it forces you to abandon the hope that questions about ultimate meaning or purpose will ever be answered.

Just a few years ago, while I didn't consider these questions "silly", I feared them like a cancer diagnosis.  In our society, we have a prevailing tendency to engage in small-talk, to busy ourselves with lots of little things, and to fill every free moment with some form of entertainment, stimulation, or just plain noise.  This is telling of just how afraid we are to face these most important questions.  Blaise Pascal once wrote, "All of man's problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself."  Is that really true?  It certainly sounds a little extreme, but I believe there is great wisdom in it.  When Pascal says that our problems "come from" this inability, he means the inability proves that we are guilty of not being able to face our own mortality.  Perhaps you're thinking to yourself right now, "I'm not addicted to distractions or afraid to face the big questions in life – I don't mind sitting quietly by myself either."  If you are thinking this, I have a challenge for you.  Try it.  Try actually sitting in a room alone without your phone, lights, music, or any other source of noise for half an hour.  You'll probably find that it's not nearly as easy as it sounds.  If this does sound too difficult, try just turning off your car radio the next time you make a half-hour drive by yourself.  Ironically, there is a song called "Car Radio" by the band Twenty One Pilots that illustrates our addiction to distracting ourselves in a very powerful way.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard was very much aware of the human aversion to silence, even though he lived before the age of radio, cable television, the internet, YouTube, Netflix, and all the other technological distractions that we have today.  He once wrote:
If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence.  For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, no one would hear it; there is too much noise. Therefore, create silence.
Do you know a person who constantly looks at their phone when you're trying to talk to them?  They might nod occasionally, saying,"Yeah...yeah...I know what you mean," but they clearing aren't paying attention?  If you're able to read this blog right now, then I'm sure you have experienced this, and you know how frustrating it can be.  When it comes to our relationship with God, we are often that annoying friend on our phone.  We rightly expect our fellow human beings to give us their full attention when we speak to them, but when we supposedly want to listen to our Creator and the Creator of the entire Universe, we rarely give the same consideration to Him.  Some people even do this intentionally, rationalizing their lack of effort to hear God, thinking, "If God really wanted to speak to me, then He could make Himself heard; He could drown out whatever noise there is in my life."  This is a dangerous attitude to have, because it is rooted in pride and basically amounts to telling God, "God, I want to listen to you but I'm only willing to do so on my terms."  If you refuse to approach God just because the way He ordinarily communicates with people doesn't completely make sense to you, then you're not even giving God a chance.  God is a package deal, like a spouse.  When you marry someone, your life should now be lived for your spouse, and your spouse's life likewise be lived for you.  If you wish to enter into marriage with a person, but are unwilling to change anything about yourself, your priorities, or how you spend your time, then you can't expect that relationship to be healthy or your marriage to last.  The same goes for your relationship with God.  

Religion is not a Do-it-Yourself project, where having a relationship with God is some sort of quantifiable, calculable state that can be achieved by simply taking the proper steps and following the instructions.  God is a personal being, so we should approach Him that way.  This is why prayer is absolutely essential.  If you love someone, you want to get to know them, if you want to get know them, you have to communicate with them, and to communicate with them you have to give them your time and undivided attention.  How do we apply this practically to our relationship with God?  A good place to start is to find some silence each day, and give our overstimulated minds a break from the endless flood of noise that our technological age bombards us with.  This might mean setting your alarm ten or fifteen minutes earlier (gasp!) so that you can start your day off with some Bible or other book reading, quiet meditation, a rosary, or other favorite prayer of yours.  I can personally guarantee that you'll be surprised at how much your mood, attitude, and most importantly, spiritual well-being will benefit by offering God the first fruits of your day.  "But Chris, I am NOT a morning person, and what little time I do have is spent rushing around getting myself ready, my kids ready, my spouse ready, my dog ready, etc."  I completely get it.  What time of day are you at your best then?  On your lunch break?  Afternoon?  Evening?  Two in the morning when you're normally still on Facebook?  Regardless of what time you're available, we all can afford to give God fifteen minutes of our best time.  Too often, we put off our time with God until "When I get extra time."  Let's face it, something else will probably come up, or you'll just forget, so the time for God is going to have come from what most of us call "my" time.  Of course, the concept of "my" time is nothing more than a delusion – every second of our existence is a free gift from God!  One final and easy way to introduce healthy silence into your day is to simply turn off your car radio the next time you're driving and "just sit in silence."  If you feel like you can't part with your driving tunes, carefully listen to and/or read the lyrics of this song, "Car Radio," and reflect on what it may be that you're hiding from, or rather, who it may be you're hiding from, when you keep yourself buried in noise.

*Note:  This song, while it is by a band of Christian guys, is somewhat intense, so if you don't enjoy rap or rock music, you can instead simply read the lyrics here.

God Bless you and thanks for reading!

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer

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