I just finished listening to a church history course lecture on Medieval Spirituality. Spirituality is a hot topic again in our day, but it often comes in the form of a thinly-veiled quest for personal power or fulfillment or peace of mind rather than a genuine attempt to know God and align ourselves with His will.
Medieval Spirituality centered on the practice of prayer. Unbroken communion with the Most High was the goal. As Henri Nouwen said, "Jesus was all ears. That is true prayer: being all ears for God. the core of all prayer is listening, obediently standing in the presence of God."
But to listen we have to shut out the noise. And in our technology-saturated culture that is harder and harder to do. Our computers and cellphone and ipads call to us. Facebook updates and blog posts (like this one!) pull our attention away from our need to be still and listen. Charles Ringma (Dare to Journey wtih Henri Nouwen, reflection 52) speaks of it as an "outward momentum" that prevents us from "time for inwardness." He says, "It is not only that we are busy doing things, nor that we spend a lot of time thinking about what should be done; it is also that we become restless when there is nothing on our immediate horizon. We are therefore outwardly focused even when we have the opportunity to enter the inner sanctuary for refreshment and renewal."
I know that restless feeling all too well. I feel a compulsion to check email again (even though I checked 5 minutes ago). I feel like I'm missing something so I check Facebook or find a blog to read or call my mom. For some of you the TV or the refrigerator becomes your quest for that something. All the while what we need most is to be still. To be unplugged from constant status updates and breaking news. To listen. Just listen.
It feels odd at first. It's awkward and empty. But as we train our minds to focus on the unbounded love of God, we can learn to drink deeply of that love, and silence becomes sweet. I, for one, would like to get to that place where listening prayer is as natural as breathing.