“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
Over the weekend I read a terrific article on the Catholic Sistas blog by Kerri called Silence in Music: God’s Lesson in Listening. Being a former musician of sorts and someone who has written several times on the subject of “being still” and making time to rest the subject matter resonated with me.
Just this past Saturday I was chatting with a friend about the many distractions in our lives. The gist of the conversation was that we live in a society that does not place a high priority on “down time.” Time away from the every day. Time to rejuvenate ourselves. Time to relish silence.
This kind of down time is a requirement of the human condition. We just cannot go, go, go endlessly. Our minds and bodies need a break.
Music is more than just the notes on a page that creates a beautiful sound for an audience. The music is also made up of rests. These moments of silence add to the drama and intrigue of the music; it is what makes the music interesting. The silence is just as important as the notes the musicians play. In the same way, we need silence in our life. Not only should we use those silent moments in our lives to lay our petitions before God, but we also need to stop talking, start listening, and allow God to use that silence to speak to us.
Here hear! (bad wordplay intended) You’ll want to read it all.
Lately I’ve been having a long conversation with a friend of mine about the importance of silence in our lives. He’s been experimenting with disconnecting on his own and has been excited in relaying the results to me. The intrusion of all the noise used to come from the television, music or video games. All of these things were blamed (somewhat correctly) for filling up all the down time we used to afford ourselves in order to be quiet and give our psyches a chance to rejuvenate and reenergize. Other time thieves are the internet or even the cult of celebrity. For the life of me I cannot understand our culture’s obsession with so-called celebrities and the minutiae of they’re doing or saying or whatever. I’ll never understand this. The past few years has given rise to another time thief: social media. Whether on our PC or Smartphone, we now have access to every minute, inane thought of anyone and everyone who wishes to splatter them all over the internet. I’ve said it before: I love my friends dearly and am there for them if they should ever need me for anything. But I’m learning more about them than I care to know, especially during this politically charged season. I wish I could post the conversation I had with someone on Facebook recently whereby after a few exchanges in which I debunked using reason and logic their bumper-sticker slogan about Chick-fil-A and “oppression” they resorted to calling me a “hater” with obvious anger issues, but it would take too much time to photoshop their name and face out of the screen capture. That’s what we’ve been reduced to by spending so much time conversing in our echo chambers: anyone who doesn’t share our worldview and politely but firmly disagrees with us is obviously a hater. Why else would anyone disagree with our fabulous selves?
That should have been the signal for me that I needed a rest. The clarion call came last night when I was informed that if I didn’t vote for a certain politician running for the senate in my home state than I obviously did not value principle or valor. Wait…what?
After adjusting the settings on a few people so I wouldn’t be subjected to all of the nonsense, and then finally just deleting a few people who insisted upon consistently posting the nastiest or truthfully the most shockingly unthinking and emotionally charged (and more than once anti-Catholic) screeds I’d seen to date, I simply logged out and blocked my phone from accessing it at all. I haven’t deleted my account. I’m just not going to visit for awhile, possibly through the end of this election madness that seems to be affecting everyone. Because I don’t believe half of them even realize that what they are posting is truly offensive. They are simply doing what they see being done everywhere else: they are having a conversation with themselves.
No one is listening, and they wonder why they’re feeling alone and lost and empty in an age when we are more connected than ever before.
O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.
(Opening prayer to The Divine Office)
So what am I going to fill that now empty time with? I’ll fill it with what I’ve flirted with before but never been able to really commit to: prayer. Just as importantly I’ll fill it with time spent actually with my family. There. In the room with them. Not distracted by any other noise. I mean no offense to my friends, but my God and my family are more important than any of you. And if I cannot commit to being the best I can be to Him or them, how on earth would I ever be of any worth to you when you need me to be?
This line from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner came to mind:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
If I am to love best, I need to pray. In order to pray, I need to rest. Preferably in Him.
Recently I made the decision to make a better study of the Psalms and their use in prayer. And while I’ve prayed the post-Vatican II Divine Office (aka “The Liturgy of the Hours”) for over a decade, it wasn’t until this spring when I began to pray the 1961 pre-Vatican II Divine Office known as the Breviarium Romanum (that I purchased from Baronius Press) and its more traditional psalter that I really started to appreciate them as not just a means of prayer but as a cyclical calendar of sorts for the week as well as the human condition. But that in itself is a subject for another day. Today the subject is rest. And the greatest rest I’ve found over the past several months I find in the psalms.
Late last week I received a letter confirming my reservations at a silent Ignatian retreat later in the fall. Also included was the itinerary. What I liked the most about it was that it wasn’t jammed and packed with activity/talks like most business conferences or even some spiritual retreats I’ve attended. For example, here’s how we’ll spend a few of the days:
8:45am: Morning Prayer
7:00-7:45pm: Sacrament of Reconciliation
8:00pm: Benediction followed by Conference*
9:00pm: End of day
*Conferences are approximately 30 minutes in length. No discussion or question and answer sessions will be held during the conferences.
Silence. To some of you looking at this your first reaction might be to say “This is a conference? If so it looks like the most boring conference evah!” And there was a time not long ago I would have probably said the same thing. But what I see now is heaven on earth. I see contemplation and communion. And as I’ve written about before those are both vital prerequisites to having any sort of energy for the mission. And nowhere on that list do I see time spent with a Smartphone or the internet. I see rest. I see a chance to be still. To listen.
Late last night I finished Michael O’Brien’s Strangers and Sojourners. Towards the end of the book Anne Delaney, the story’s main character, meets a cantankerous crippled writer while on a cruise from Canada to England where Anne is returning after several decades to see her sister one last time. The writer, Fran, tells Anne to watch for her articles in upcoming issues of The New Yorker. After returning from her trip Anne subscribes and eventually sees one of Fran’s articles in print. Fran herself is dying, and near the end of the article in which she reveals that she had planned to kill herself on that cruise to England, writes something very poignant that struck me enough to write it down. She reveals that she decided against ending her life because of the encounter she had on the cruise ship with Anne.
All flesh grows old with knowledge and returns to earth. The fires of the heart burn down. The hot hands cool. The tale alone endures; telling us the abiding act of love. Thus, for my brief span I sit and rock and tell my tales. I am content. The autumn moon walks slowly across the sky. The pumpkins are cured by frost. The smoke of the leaf-fires rises in the garden.
I have been defeated, and in the defeat I have won myself. It is a pleasure to die at the hands of Life. On its terms. Not mine.
We are not alone. The vast sea sends messengers to us if we wait. They speak, they speak, though we hardly ever hear.
I believe this. I believe that messages are sent to us constantly by God, carried by his angels whether they be in the spirit or in the person of those around us; whether family, friends or strangers. I also believe that the messages are delivered quietly. We’re not beat over the head with them though there are times when I think that should be God’s modus operandi. We miss the vast majority of them because we’re so busy being busy. At this stage of my life I’m tired of being busy and realize there’s more to life. It is in listening to the stories and silent messages that we gain the ability to “sit and rock” and tell our tales. And that is my rub with social media and today’s modern media in general. Everyone is talking/making noise but nothing of substance is being said while the autumn moon makes that celestial trek across the night skies of our lives.
What does it really mean to hear? Paul Wharton provides the following insights:
Speaking through the Hebrew prophets of old, God frequently complains of how God’s people – usually, but not always, those with power or prestige – had ears, but failed to hear God’s Word. Jesus makes similar complaints in the gospels. Helen Keller and others have noted that there are none so blind as they who will not see. Perhaps it is also true there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.
Click here to read it all, and be sure to read the meditation by Rabbi Jack Riemer he includes at the end of his post. It’s worth printing out and reviewing often.
Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Jesus is inviting us, in one sense, to take a nap. And as any parent can tell you getting a child to take a nap is never an easy endeavor. Yet it is a necessary one. In a statement that I’m sure would have shocked my mom forty years ago I can eagerly say: “I can’t wait to take my nap!”