Adam and Eve’s quiet times with God must have been pretty darn good. I mean, what else was there to do in the garden? Pull weeds? Life was simple back then. A world devoid of television and the Internet. Today we have plenty of diversions to compete for our attention. What we don’t have is enough silence.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like my diversions just like the next guy. I get separation anxiety when I’m not with my iPod for more than a day. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these things. But at some point, small diversions evolve into larger distractions. They eat up free time like hungry catfish in a filthy fish tank, keeping us from experiencing something much greater. They become “filler.”
The alternative is silence. It’s understandable why most of us steer clear of it. Silence often leads to boredom. We’d much rather be entertained or, at the very least, busy. Truth is, today’s society echoes the painful reality of Nirvana’s lyrics: “Here we are now. Entertain us.” It’s as if the earth revolves around us. Silence also makes us keenly aware of stuff we’d rather not deal with. Instead of looking deeply within, we’d rather fill our time with things that hover safely above the surface. God’s voice eventually gets drowned out by an audio-visual symphony.
Ironically, there are times when even my quiet times with God are noisy. I find myself doing all the talking with no room for listening. They are, in essence, one-way conversations. My life, in general, is prone to mimicking that same busyness: always doing something, always meeting someone, always going somewhere and never leaving enough time for God in an overly cramped PalmPilot.
“In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”—Henri Nouwen
I’ve come to realize the only way I can truly hear God is to carve out that space that Henri Nouwen writes about: a portion of every day devoted to silence and meditation. Meditation isn’t the super-spiritual exercise we may think it is. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says: “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word.” That’s all. OK, easier said than done. But even if I don’t capture a revelation of sorts during meditation, I’m learning to simply enjoy His presence.
Meditation begins with quieting our hearts and minds. But it also helps to designate a “quiet zone,” a place where we won’t allow other distractions to infiltrate. It can be a couch in our living room or a bench in the park. There are no set guidelines to meditation. Sometimes it lasts five minutes. Sometimes it takes an entire weekend in the form of a personal retreat. Slowing down and removing some of the “filler” in our lives allows us to connect with God on a deeper level. What He reveals to us in the silence is simply amazing: Himself.[Calvin Lai is a copywriter at an ad agency in New York City. He’s currently trying to find a little peace and quiet in the city that never sleeps.]