A Word from the Rector: Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
I am nearing the end of a free ten week membership in a fitness club. Getting a membership in a high-end club for free has been sufficient motivation to make me more focused on physical activity and health (even though diet remains as unexamined part of the health equation for me!), and—while recognizing that getting into shape involves work— I should be enjoying the opportunity to use the club. But I’m not, really. It is spoiled for me by the bombardment of loud music. In a workout room filled with machines the music is generally less audible, but everywhere else it is a constant.
Let’s leave aside tastes in music (although I have a bone to pick on that score). The problem is not what music, but the constant of background noise. When I have mentioned this I find that most people don’t seem to notice, just as I find that most people don’t seem to notice that in stores there is constant music, and in many restaurants people will just speak more loudly as they compete with the music thumping around them. (A recent blog discusses the misuse of God’s Name as “background noise”)
See http://gracechurchgracenotes. blogspot.com/2019/02/wahahoogrek.html
We are surrounded by noise, to the point where silence is threatening to many people. I find, for example, that in making a pastoral call to a hospital room the one thing I have to do first is turn off the television, to allow for some quiet for real conversation and prayer. Background noise distracts, redirects. If we are to follow the reasoning of the senior devil, Screwtape, (in C. S. Lewis’ classic of Christian apologetic, The Screwtape Letters) surrounding people with noise allows for devils to distract them, and to focus them away from the eternal to what is worldly only. Screwtape directs his protégé junior devil, Wormwood, to make sure that those whom he tempts are always kept busy, always surrounded by noise and “entertainment”, always reassured that the world should be focused on their wants, and then they can be redirected from anything eternal. Then the devil can focus them where he wants to.
Lewis’ novella was published in 1942, in the middle of WWII, a time when people first experienced to totality of media bombardment. The book certainly rings true as prophecy. When Lewis wrote, people were subjected to radio broadcasts, propaganda posters, rallies, etc. But there was no television, no internet, no streaming, and there were no social media. We now live in an era when the relentless cascade of details and complaints of the here-andnow, found in all sorts of electronic communications tempt us to constantly compare ourselves with others, all while being bombarded with and desensitized by “background noise” of all kinds, so that we won’t compare ourselves with who and what God calls us to be.
Which brings us to Lent. Lent is a time to refocus on the eternal. And I would suggest that the very first thing you can do in seeking to refocus, or to focus better, is to first identify the distractions in your life and to turn them off. Let your Lenten disciplines be less about what you won’t consume by mouth and more about what you won’t consume by ear or by eye. Have family meals, or meals with a friend, with no background noise, only conversation. If you find that you are constantly checking your phone for the latest update on Facebook, make a point of checking this only once a day, at the same time every day. Make Sunday a “no media” day. Even if you want to watch TV on a Sunday, do so with the plan to watch a specific show or shows, not to “surf”, and to avoid emails, texts, social media updates for the day.
This probably sounds radical, but it is only to the extent that we have become so used to the background noise of modern living that we think of all this noise as normal. If, for example, I had a bottle-a-day habit for whisky, sobriety would sound radical, whereas what sobriety would be would be healthy. To define
The example of turning off a TV during a pastoral visit highlights the need for a lack of distraction to allow for a focus in prayer. If, as was said once by a wise person, “The Devil’s best trick is to convince people that he doesn’t exist” then, surely, his bag of tricks also involves distracting us from how God calls us, by keeping us always busy and by always distracting us with things like background noise. It’s noise. In Lent we may call to mind the example of Elijah in the wilderness of Horeb (1 Kgs. 19). The LORD “passe[s] by” Elijah in a windstorm, in an earthquake, and in fire. But, when after these cataclysms of noise it is quiet, it is then that the LORD now comes to Elijah— He does not pass by—in “a still small noise”, a quiet presence.
Pay attention in Lent. Turn to the Lord all the more by turning that which distracts off.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg