This morning, as my coffee brewed, I sat down in my study, among a stack of books that I want to read or read again. I picked up my Bible and turned to today’s reading. Since this is Holy Week and today is Holy Tuesday, I read from Luke 20, 21 and John 12:20–36. But you know what, though my eyes passed over the words on the page, I really didn’t read a thing. The words themselves never made it from my eyes to my heart; they never had a chance.
Do you know why?
Too much noise. I don’t mean outside, eternal noise I mean internal noise. Don’t misunderstand. My house and neighborhood are quiet when I get up in the morning. Generally, even the birds haven’t started looking for that early worm when my feet first hit the floor. But as quiet as things are on the outside, inside things are running a mile a minute. And over the last few weeks, with all the additional news and information on the virus that floods into my life, well let’s just say things are running more like a mile a second.
Then, this morning, I sat reading the Bible, well, like I said, I sat running my eyes over the words on the page, while other things ran through my head, too. I thought about a few of my friends who have been laid off as a result of this pandemic. I thought about my friends who have texted, called, and emailed to ask me and folks from Bethel and Windsor to pray for them or their friend. I thought about my friends who are grieving because someone they love is among the number of fatalities. I thought about – well – I thought about a lot of things all at once and the noise kept getting louder.
And then I grabbed a book from among the stacks. It is a book a friend of mine gave me back in 1999 (I know that because he wrote me a little note and put the date on it). The book is called A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants by Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck. I’ve used this book as part of my devotions off and on since ’99. I recommend it to everyone. Job and Shawchuck didn’t write the book. It is a collection of texts and prayers and writings from a number of sources and people. But enough about the book; let me tell you what I read from this week’s devotional.
Job and Shawchuck use a quote from Urban T. Holmes III, who was an Episcopal priest and served as Dean of the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. Holmes wrote, “Many persons, ordained or not, live in a fairly constant state of noise, with their unresolved past and the uncertain present breaking in on them. They lack a still center and it is only for such a quiet point that we can listen attentively.” If Holmes thought it was noisy back in his day, well, he’d be deafened today. Holmes relates a story about Thomas Merton, the well-known writer and Cistercian monk. Though living in a monastery, Merton found his surroundings too loud and eventually lived as a hermit on the monastery’s property in order to be quiet enough to listen to God. Holmes wrote, “He needed the quiet that he might listen to God. Too frequently we do not understand the hermit’s discipline, a discipline that needs to be ours in spirit, if not in fact.”
That little bit from Holmes got my attention. For it was when I read that, I realized I hadn’t actually read anything from the Gospel texts that I ran my eyes over this morning. I realized that Holmes was right; I lack a still center and I, like Merton and Holmes – and you, too – need that still center in order to listen – really listen to what God is saying through His word and His Spirit.
I think God knows that about us. I think God is aware that we are prone to be distracted by both external and internal noise. I think God also knows we need that still center and so He gave us one. In Psalm 46:10 God speaks and says to “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Therein is the still center that we all need in order to shut out the noise in order to listen – really listen.
I like the fact that in Psalm 46 God doesn’t tell us to clear our minds – as if I could. Rather, He tells us to become still in Him – because we know God and though the world around us is noisy – He will be exalted. He is in control. The world of the Psalmist was anything but quiet and into the noise of that day, God spoke. God still speaks – even in the noise of our day.
I’m going to go back now and try to be still enough to read – really read – the Gospel readings for today (Matthew 21:23—23:39; Mark 11:27—12:44; Luke 20:1—21:4; John 12:20–36). Hopefully, you’ll be able to be still and know God too – still enough to read – really read – all that Jesus has done for us.