Take a moment to listen. Concentrate on what you hear. As I write in my home study early on this Friday morning, I am sitting in silence. But a moment’s time spent listening reveals that it’s not really so. I can now hear the hum of fluorescent lights in the ceiling and the steady rush of heated air through the overhead vents. I didn’t notice them until I listened for them. What do you hear that you didn’t a moment ago?
A fascinating article on this morning’s Newsweek website tells us that true silence has nearly vanished from our collective experience. An “audio ecologist” (I didn’t know such a science existed) named Gordon Hempton studies the issue. He says that there are fewer than a dozen places of silence–places “where natural silence reigns over many square miles”–remaining in America, and none in Europe. Hempton has circled the earth three times, recording sound on every continent except Antarctica. He warns that silence is facing extinction.
Whom are we to blame? People and planes. During daytime, according to Hempton, the average noise-free interval in wilderness areas is less than five minutes. Helicopters fly over Hawaii volcanoes and snowmobiles roar through Yellowstone. There are 90,000 air tours a year over Grand Canyon National Park. The FAA has placed four jetways directly over Olympic National Park in Washington.
Where can you go to find silence? Probably not outside your door. Hempton says that light pollution is the evil twin of noise pollution–where there is one we find the other. Looking at a map of the night sky in America (http://www.lightpollution.it/worldatlas/pages/fig2.htm), I’m not encouraged. Silence may be the rarest commodity in our nation today.
The good news is that we don’t have to depend on our external circumstances to find internal silence. Solitude was one of the most significant spiritual disciplines in Jesus’ life. Scripture tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). On one occasion, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). On another occasion, “he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
Our Lord told us to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). He once called his disciples to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).
When was the last time you spent an hour in solitude with your Lord?
Frederick Buechner is one of my favorite theologians and novelists. When he was ten years old, his father committed suicide. Buechner was eventually able to understand the tragedy this way: “My father was a fine swimmer and a wonderful dancer. He was at home everywhere, but in another sense, he had no private home inside of himself. Therefore, when trouble forced him home, there was no where to go. He had no home, or if he ever had one, he had forgotten the way to get there. . . . he died of homesickness.”
Noise is the enemy of the soul. This weekend, why not spend some time in the “private home inside of yourself”?