I set yesterday aside to be a Quiet Day– a day without texting, emailing, or phone conversations, in order to rest in soul and body and quiet myself in God’s presence. For years I’ve tried to schedule a Quiet Day once a week, a sort of Sabbath, but recently I’ve been finding that appointments of various sorts and other commitments and communications have taken over my resolve to stay away from my phone or email. As a result, I haven’t taken regular chunks of uninterrupted time for reflection, rest, and prayer.
So yesterday I was finally to have a proper Quiet Day. I like to start my Quiet Days early, while it’s still dark and all the world is still (except for our resident Barred Owls, who are always a treat to hear). Well, I heard some owls, but not because I got up early. Our smoke alarms shrieked to life at 2:35am, waking us with piercing beeps interspersed with a voice saying, “Fire! Fire!” producing a sleep-annihilating rush of adrenaline. Thankfully there was no fire, and we have no idea why they went off, but it took me a long time to get back to sleep. I finally awoke well after sunrise, groggy and unfocused, and made the mistake of looking at my phone, not something I planned to do today. I noticed that alluring blinking blue light on my phone, indicating a text, or in this case, several texts, waiting to be read. I read them, replied, and of course got responses, which I read, my tension rising, as this was not what I had planned for my Quiet Day.
Finally I headed out for a walk with Ramble to clear my head and focus on God, which I often do more easily when walking. While walking, I complained to God that I hardly know how to deal with the barrage of communications of various sorts– phone calls, voicemails, emails, texts, and even smoke alarms screeching “Fire! Fire!” I love the idea of real quiet, external and internal, but a part of me looks for that blinking blue light or for an unread email waiting to be opened. And since we live in a society where communication is nearly constant and instant, I worry that I will disappoint someone or that someone will be expecting a response about something urgent.
And then the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24) came to mind:
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. Luke 14:16-18
Jesus invites me to come to him for rest and nourishment for my soul, but how often do I make excuses (I’ll just check my phone quickly; I’ll just respond to this one text or email) and avoid giving him my full attention?
When I got home I sat down to belatedly read my morning psalms, which included Psalm 81 today. A few of the verses stopped me in my tracks as I meditated on them:
Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me. Psalm 81:8-9
Do I make a “god” of pleasing people, of never disappointing anyone? Or of feeling like I have the answer to every urgent question posed to me?
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. Psalm 81: 10
This is what I want and need– to be nourished by God, but I have to open wide my mouth (or soul, or schedule) to receive what he is offering.
“But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices. Psalm 81: 11-12
I am sure the psalmist didn’t have electronic devices in mind when he wrote Psalm 81, nor did the translation team for the New International Version of the Bible, but that word certainly got my attention! Lord, please help me to listen to you with all my heart, not stubbornly following my own devices, whether my electronic devices or my own ideas (as the New Living Translation puts it) about what is important.
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, spare thou those who confess their faults, restore thou those who are penitent, according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord; and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name. Amen (Book of Common Prayer)