Whenever I lead a memorial service or a wedding, somewhere near the beginning of the service I issue a friendly invitation that sounds like this.
"At this time, let me invite any of you who have a cell phone, pager, Blackberry, iPhone or anything else that buzzes and beeps...to turn it off." Usually there's some chuckles and quite a few sheepish smiles. And then immediately, the sound of dozens of communication devices being shut down at once. Then we pray.
Oftentimes when we gather as a staff or leadership team at Bethany Presbyterian, I need to remind folks that we've set aside the time for important things, and that cell phones need to be off for the next hour.
Occasionally, I've been in meetings around the city where there is a steady stream of people jumping up as their phones chirp or blast and answering them on their way out of the room, apparently not cognizant that they have interrupted the entire flow of the meeting.
Whenever we gather for worship at Bethany, near the beginning of our time the worship leader will say something like, "Now let's set aside the busyness of the week, and the rush of getting here this morning. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. And let's sit quietly before God for a few moments."
Last Sunday, Tara Taylor called us to exactly that kind of Silent Listening. And I noted that in the next "silent" moments the following happened: a very, very loud plane flew overhead sounding for all the world like it was going to land on the lawn in front of Bethany. A cell phone rang.
Two babies decided that they suddenly needed to test out their lung capacity and started to cry, followed by the sounds of their parents hustling them out of the sanctuary to the lobby. And a motorcycle that clearly needed a new muffler several years ago went roaring past the church on Queen Anne Avenue. Sigh.
"Be still and know that I am God," says the voice of the Lord to Elijah, the same Lord who was not to be heard in the loudness of wind, earthquake or fire but in a gentle whisper. It's getting harder and harder for us to be still.
And if we are going to be people who can hear God, we will have to be intentional about being in places where that can happen. Making decisions. Prioritizing time.
Don't get me wrong. I'm actually not a Luddite. At least not totally. I have an iPod and cell phone in my briefcase, and my e-mail life is more than full. I even text message once in awhile, for heaven's sake! And those are amazingly nice luxuries and communication tools.
But when we allow ourselves to be constantly available to every person with a passing thought for us, we are making a deliberate choice to fill our life with noise. Lots of noise. So much noise, in fact, that we find it very difficult to pray. To listen. To reflect. To think. To hear. There's not much point in praying, "Lord, what shall we do in this situation?" if we can't hear an answer.
The Quaker professor Douglas Steere put it this way "Frequently, if we are sensitive and listening, there come clear insights of things to be done."
So what are we to do in our over stimulated, attention-demanding environment?
Be intentional. Choose specific times to pray and listen. Go for a long walk without your cell phone. Go running without headphones. Sit down to read with the phone off. The world will wait for you. Better yet, the Lord waits for you.
Yesterday Anne and I were stopped at a red light at the always congested five-way intersection near the Lower Woodland ball fields. As we waited, two ducks, one male and one female, slowly stepped off the curb and out into one of the busiest intersections in the city.
We held our breath, wondering what would happen when the next line of cars roared through the intersection. What happened was...nothing. It was still. Absolutely quiet. Not a single car moved from any of the five directions.
A hundred drivers with busy schedules and places to go simply waited while the ducks waddled the long way across to the other side. Then life resumed. It was a lovely moment.[[In-content Ad]]