I've been carrying on for the past week about slowing down in an age of technology; whether this is something we really need to do, why and how we might go about doing it are all questions I am looking at. In the last article I talked about multitasking, teenagers, and simplicity. I talked a little about how too much of a good thing can take away from our quality of life, and even worse our struggle to become human. In our day, there is a real struggle to find space to become fully human, there is so much competition for our loyalty, our money, our attention, and our bodies all of this can be used as advertisements for products, sex, religion, and services.
Finding Silence in noise
One of the richest features of Quakerism is its distinct conviction that humanity needs silence, and that given a silent and centered heart we can hear God speaking to us. This is no less true almost 400 years after George Fox turned this mystical concept, borrowed from forerunners such as Hans Denke, and Christian mystics, into a major tenant of this Christian movement. Its safe to say that there is much more noise today, things desperately trying to drive away silence, than ever before. As I sit in the coffee shop writing this, I am listening to my Smog on my ipod, drinking coffee, listening to the various machines and computers that the baristas use to create coffee drinks and charge people for them. In fact, this is much quieter than it can be, there could be a TV on in the distance, people talking all around me, music supplied by the coffee shop, horns beeping by the impatient California drivers, babies crying, and children laughing. Only a few of these would have created noise 100 years ago, less 400 years ago.
A Quaker Experiment
I think more than ever, do we need a Quaker concept of silence. In all this hustle and bustle we call today, we need to decide to not turn on the stereo when we get in the car or walk in the door of our home, go the whole evening without the TV on, what about putting the computer to sleep for the weekend and/or slipping the ipod into the drawer? If when you read that list you think of me as either fundamentalist, or idealist – saying “that can never be done!” or “I wouldn't ever make it!” Try it as a Quaker experiment – whether you find yourself interested in spiritual or Christian things or not, ever person needs a break from the onslaught of noise and distraction. Trust me, you'll feel better.
Listen to the Silence
But turning off the noise is only a first step. The Next is to listen in the silence. This admittedly is the most frightening part of the process – we are afraid of what we might hear, that we've for so long avoided. Maybe there are thoughts that having been trying to flag us down, maybe there are people who have been talking to us who we've been avoiding for sometime, maybe God himself has been trying to get our attention. These are only a couple possibilities of the things that can be opened up to us, in moments of silence. Silence for each person may look a little different – but it almost always includes removing something for a time. And we should not be adverse to this, if we find that there are things we are unwilling to set aside, this should be even more frightening than anything else; we get used to so much noise and distraction, that it become virtually impossible to have enough courage to be silent.
A while back I wrote about the need to turn my ipod off, stop my hurrying and listen on the train. Its a wonder how simple, and yet difficult such a practice can be. But I have many more conversations with people why my earphones are not plugged into my head piping in Smog, or Bob Dylan and though this isn't the only reason to not always have the earphones in, its a good one.
Finding Space in the Noise for Silence
When I am on the train in the morning or afternoon, ipod off, simply reading a book or magazine I experience a silence that creates a much-needed pace for my day. I like to write about silence and sacraments not because I think I know much about either one, but I find that in writing I am able to discover not only what the world needs but what I need, and what what I can do about my need. Since I've begun writing these short articles on simplicity, noise, etc, I've been practicing (or trying to practice) some different experiments with silence. In our world Slowness and Silence can become sacramental. When I deliberately go slow, so that I can absorb every moment of life – I am more likely to find myself opened to God. When I create space for silence – whether it be at a quite garden, or on a public train, I am will enter into worship sometimes without even knowing it.
I thought I'd conclude with a Quote from Mister Roger's a man who, at least in his show, seemed to embody slowness (usually why I didn't like to watch it), but regardless of how cool or not he may be he has this idea down in what he said at a Graduation speech in June 2002.
“ Have you heard the story that came out of the Seattle Special Olympics? For the 100-yard dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun they took off. But one little boy didn't get too far. He stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry.
The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around and ran back to him–every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, ”This will make it better.“ The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long time…deep down we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then (Grassi, Peace on Earth, 145).”
My next and last post on this topic will cover the art of friendship in technological age or cyberspace community.