In a Whisper Here
by Wendell Barnett
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.—I Kings 19:11b-12 (NIV)
He wasn’t in the fire
He wasn’t in the quake
He wasn’t in the wind
He’s in a whisper here
—“Life’s Noise,” Bluetree
Be still, and know that I am God.—Psalm 46:10 (KJV)
Modern life seems very much a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, act 5, scene 5, William Shakespeare) While I disagree with Mr. Shakespeare that a life’s story signifies nothing, I do see that it is full of sound and fury. Especially in an urban environment, noise and activity are always present.
One wakes up with noise—an alarm clock (or like me, the meowing of a “catalarm”); gets ready for the day with noise—coffee pot gurgling, water running, shaver buzzing, all to the blare of music, or news, or talk shows; and one goes to school, work or on errands with the thrum of cars and other vehicles accompanied by the tympani of large metal dumpsters being emptied and the cacophony of pealing horns and wailing sirens. Wherever one ends up is also full of noise: computer keys clacking, people talking, or Muzak, or the clattering of carts (there’s always that one with the wonky wheel), and so it goes. The return to home is the same. For many, as soon as one arrives home the TV or media player of choice goes on and doesn’t stop until one goes to bed. Even going to bed doesn’t really end the noise. There may be the soft burr of a ceiling fan, or the hum of an air conditioning unit outside the bedroom window; and the sounds of traffic never really stop.
All of this noise occurs along with a frenetic pace. “Fast and Furious” becomes the theme of our lives. As the Peasall Sisters sang in their song, “Rushing Around”:
Now the first thing in the morning you rush right oud of bed
You hurry through your breakfast like you’re crazy in the head.
Fly down to the bus stop as fast as you can go.
How you ever get to work alive I swear I’ll never know.
You’re rushing around today,
You’re rushing around today.
How old will you be at sixty-three
From rushing around today?
Even when we “rest” we must be active, and so we live by another mantra: Work hard; play hard. Our lives are so imbued with noise and busyness that on those rare moments when they cease the silence and inactivity rapidly become unnerving.
Here’s the thing: That anxiety we feel when noise and activity cease is the same symptom of an addict when the addicting substance is taken away. You may declaim, “I’m not an addict! All this noise and activity are a normal part of life.” Be honest when you answer these questions: How long can you go with no TV, cell phone, landline, radio, iPod, MP3 player, or other multimedia device? How long can you sit still and do nothing? Do constant noise and activity have to be a part of life?
I contend that no, noise and activity do not need to be a constant part of life, and actually are debilitating if they are. We don’t find God in busyness or life’s noise. God is not in the earth-shattering noise of rushing around the day, nor the quaking of frenzied activity, nor the fire of industry. Rather, God is to be found in a whisper. Here. One must be silent; one must be still to hear a whisper.
This is why the psalmist quoted God, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) In verse 6 the psalmist exclaimed, “[The] nations are in uproar…” Verse 10, then, is in response to that. The Hebrew word (arpu) translated “be still” comes from a root which means “collapse,” “leave off,” or “let go.” We are in an uproar, but God says, “Stop! And know that I am God.” How can we know God if we never stop? If we are never quiet? Think of a barcode:
It’s the spaces between the bars that make it usable. (Go ahead, scan it if you have the capability.) If I were to take a marker and color in just one space, the barcode becomes unfunctional. (Try it on this one. Doesn’t work, does it?)
If we fill up the spaces in life with noise and activity, don’t we become non-functioning in our relationship with God? I believe this is why the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, and why Jesus would often go off alone to pray. The Holy Spirit knew, and Jesus knew that space and quiet are necessary to know God. Deep down, we know that too.
“Okay. I see. How do I make space and quiet?” you may be thinking. For one, you’ll have to make friends with Will Power and Ima Gonna. These two are very good friends. With friends like these one can do all sorts of things. Resolve to find some space and some time in which you’ll be left alone and are ensured some quiet. For me, that means being the first one up for at least 30 minutes.
You may want to do some settling and quieting exercises like this reduction exercise:
Be still, and know that I am God.
Be still, and know that I Am.
Be still, and know that.
Be still, and know.
You could also take this advice from Mother Teresa. To make possible true inner silence, practice:
Silence of the eyes, by seeking always the beauty and goodness of God everywhere, and closing them to the faults of others and to all that is sinful and disturbing to the soul.
Silence of the ears, by listening always to the voice of God and to the cry of the poor and the needy, and closing them to all other voices that come from fallen human nature, such as gossip, tale bearing, and uncharitable words.
Silence of the tongue, by praising God and speaking the life-giving Word of God that is the truth, that enlightens and inspires, brings peace, hope, and joy; and by refraining from self-defense and every word that causes darkness, turmoil, pain, and death.
Silence of the mind, by opening it to the truth and knowledge of God in prayer and contemplation, like Mary who pondered the marvels of the Lord in her heart, and by closing it to all untruths, distractions, destructive thoughts, rash judgments, false suspicions of others, vengeful thoughts, and desires.
Silence of the heart, by loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; loving one another as God loves; and avoiding all selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, and greed.
(Excerpt from In the Heart of the World)