Several years ago my wife and I took a kayak camping trip in the Adirondacks of New York. We camped on an island for two nights, just the two of us. No electricity, cell phone coverage or running water. 6 miles of paddling from the nearest road. We were pretty isolated. It was great.
Isolation, solitude, silence. These have to be sought to find them in our hectic, always-connected western world. We always have man-made noise of one kind or another around us it seems. Not just the omnipresent televisions and music of stores and restaurants, either. Have you ever noticed how much quieter your house seems when the power goes out? There’s no refrigerator running, no heating or air conditioning blowing air through the house, no hum from transformers or fluorescent lights. It always gives me a bit of an other-worldly feeling when that happens. Like I’m adrift in some over-sized spaceship.
It’s hard to turn it all off. More than just cutting the electricity, getting the static to stop in our minds and souls is difficult. It takes time for the echoes of our busy life to fade to where we can really be quiet.
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
Psalm 62:1 (ESV)
Silence, it seems, is where we often meet God. The desert has long been a focal point of communion with God. Moses spent 40 years in the desert before he saw the burning bush. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before he was tempted by Satan. The early church saw a bit of an exodus into the deserts of Judea and Egypt as people sought to be closer to God.
It can be tough to be in solitude and silence. I am not one to ever accuse monastics of “having it easy” because they are away from the world. I’ve spent enough time alone to know that it can be hard. When there are no distractions, we are forced to face ourselves. To be in such a “religious” environment, free from so many of the temptations and distractions of the world, and to realize we are still tempted and distracted is sobering, even humiliating.
We can’t hear if we don’t listen. We can’t listen if we don’t know what we are listening for. To learn to listen to God is not an automatic skill we acquire. It takes time and it takes practice. We must “get out of the way.” We need to make it not about us, not about getting some sort of “boost” from God. We must be ready to listen to what he wants to tell us, not what we want to hear.
Being “trapped” on a little island with my wife for three days was a great vacation. Am I willing to be “trapped” with God for a day? If not, how am I ever going to stand the new heaven and new earth?