“Where will the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence”
~ T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday”
As I begin to type out these first few words, I have what feels like a million other tasks pulling and poking at me from all sides, demanding my attention. This might be how I can tell that winter break is nearing its end, and in just a few days I’ll be back at school gearing up for another semester. Besides that, I’ll be trying to plan for the future and keep to a healthy social, spiritual, and writing schedule. Blech. That’s a lot of stuff for one brain to handle.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel like my bushes outside, getting blown back and forth by heavy winds.
This is especially jarring to me in the first few weeks of 2017, as one of my goals for the new year (I don’t really like the term resolutions because it’s not like you can flip a switch on January 1st and magically do everything you said you would the night before, but I still like making a list of goals to work on through the coming year… it feels like more of a process this way) was to structure my productivity. I would write a little every day, set aside a set amount of time for relaxation every day, etc…. yeah, nice try, past self.
Life always gets in the way. I tell myself I’m going to listen for God in the silence and then totally suck at managing time, so it turns out that I can’t find any quiet times before I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. Wake up in a fog, repeat. It’s a real drain.
Knowing that everyone feels like this doesn’t necessarily make it any better. What can we do to actually find the silence and embrace it and maybe carry it around with us throughout our days?
About a month and a half ago, on a seemingly normal Friday afternoon just like this one, I had a special experience during adoration. Well, all my experiences there are special, but this one in particular stands out to me. I was sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament, praying, simply meditating on what it was like to actually be in God’s presence, breathing in the incense, letting the rest of the world fall away. This was towards the end of the semester, so I probably had three papers and two exams and also an entire magazine breathing down my neck. But they didn’t matter in those moments. I was entirely with Jesus. Every time, even if I only stay for ten minutes (which is never ideal, but sometimes what my schedule allows), I come away feeling healed and loved. Fulfilled. It’s the sweetest feeling in the world.
I remember looking around and realizing that there were only about three or four other people there, including the priest, in the entire chapel. Now, my college is a tiny Catholic school and most of the students there identify as Catholic. Why weren’t more people taking advantage of this opportunity?? (I realize now it probably has more to do with the fact that some people have classes on Friday afternoons and simply can’t make it to the one hour of adoration that’s offered around noon even if they want to. But in the moment, it seemed like a grave injustice).
At some point, tears started pouring out of my eyes, so overcome was I with emotion. I just felt so loved, so treasured, so close to the world’s source of goodness. I had to go out and share this feeling with the world. I wished desperately that I could, but it seemed somehow beyond me. Like it was a joyful burden too heavy to lift.
Because in our culture, when people start talking about God, they hear proselytizing. They imagine closed minds obsessed with other people’s sins, political debates about gay marriage and abortion and whatever other issues you can imagine that turn into screaming matches. Many people have had bad experiences. But maybe, if we could get past that somehow, if more people experienced this kind of peace, the rest of it would fall away. Maybe that’s the first step.
I don’t mean to say that cultural issues aren’t important or that Christians should keep their religion out of politics. To suggest so would ignore how faith forms conscience and opinions. But whatever you’re worrying about, Jesus is bigger than it. He transcends your ideology, whether liberal or conservative. He doesn’t need them. He shows himself to us in smaller, more personal ways. He breaks down your walls and makes you cry and hugs you as you melt into a quivering mass of goo.
I wish we talked about God in those terms: if you look for Him, He will bring you peace. Just sit in the silence and listen for His voice. Keep your heart open.
Maybe if more people took the time to be silent, our world would be a little less sharp, painful, hateful. Maybe we could bring back love.
Soon after that day, on my last night on campus for the fall semester, while trying to study for my English exam the next morning, I discovered this song by a band called Over the Ocean. I think it describes what I mean pretty well.