Space: The Final (Spiritual) Frontier
A few years back, a young pastor gave a talk at the weekly chapel for the high school I was teaching at. He excitedly explained that if these teenagers could just master this skill, their whole spiritual lives would be transformed. They just needed to be able to sit silently, waiting for God. After talking about the wonders of this skill, he set aside the final five or ten minutes of the talk to let everyone practice right there. “Just relax…” he said. “Breathe calmly,” he encouraged. “Don’t worry about distracting thoughts. Just let them go,” he offered. “You can move a bit if you’re uncomfortable,” he suggested. “God is here with you,” he explained. “What might God be saying to you?”
“For pity’s sake! How would they be able to hear anything God was saying with you interrupting all the time!?” I kept thinking.
I don’t want to disparage this guy too much here. Learning to live in that quiet, I think, can be extremely good for your soul, and having the time at the end to actually practice what he was suggesting instead of just leaving it out there as information was great. But I think he had the same problem so many of us do. He wasn’t as comfortable with the quiet as he thought he was.
We’re (many of us) Americans. We fix things. We get things done. We take action. And that can be a good thing, but it can also mean we get uncomfortable not taking action. Doing nothing, especially when we see what to do (or what we think we’re to do) feels kind of crazy-making. It’s like some kind of internal itch. “I can’t just sit here and do nothing!” says our heart. Or in the face of a problem, “I know what to do!” our insides shout out. In my case, more often it’s just an issue of, “Now what? What’s the next thing to do?”
I’m sitting here on a quiet night with dozens of things I could and should be doing, but I actually don’t feel like doing any of them right at this moment. But instead of doing nothing, I end up scanning email and Facebook for the forty-seventh time, wandering the internet for amusements, even doing the dishes and wiping down the kitchen (and now I’m writing this!). I’m habituated to do something. Doing nothing is uncomfortable.
But discomfort doesn’t mean whatever it is is wrong. Sometimes discomfort is the prelude to something good or profound. There was, after all, a lot of discomfort before Jesus performed a miracle (“We’re out of wine!” “We’re going to drown!” “Our beloved rabbi is dead.”).
Can we learn to live in space and be okay with it? Can we not fill every moment with things and sometimes just see what might happen if we leave room? Can we sit with other people and allow them to be in their own space sometimes without having to fill it with our thoughts, solutions, stories, and advice, even if that feels crazy-making?
Who knows? Maybe God will show up.