January 2008 - Vol. 15

photo by Wojtek Solecki

Sounds of Silence?

In a crowded, noisy, busy world, is it possible to find some space – 
some room for silence, reflection, and sanctuary with God?

by Brian Shell

I’m on a packed bus in central Beirut. Noise everywhere and stifling, stuffy air closes in on me. Stop-and-go traffic and blaring music deafen me and numb my brains. I’m inhaling stale smoke and toxic pollution. A normal day driving from a busy university to a busy home. Nothing stops, and on and on it goes.

I bet you experience something similar – wherever you are.

Crowded life, crowded mind, crowded soul.

I feel like I’m over-booked, over-spent, and running on empty. I know and believe that God is present in my busy life – but how do I stop to meet the Lord and to refill my empty soul? How can I make the Lord present and real in my life, especially in stressful times like exams, term papers, and study projects. 

Nobody denies that more and more people have a problem with being too busy. Solutions vary from health spas to packaged vacations to yoga. Yet I think that the tiredness that most people feel is at a fundamental level linked to something other than the body. I think our modern world has a fatigued soul; and spas, massages and yoga can’t bring refreshment there. 

I have learned that I do not need to be controlled by the busy-ness and distractions around me. I can choose to find space in my day to make room for God. For me this works best in the morning, when the house is still quiet. No music, no radio, no TV, no distraction for one hour. Fortunately my house has a room set aside just for prayer, quiet reflection, and meditation. That time spent in prayer and in reflective reading of scripture not only refreshes my soul – it allows me to listen to the Lord’s voice as he speaks to me through his Word. This is what orients the rest of the day for me. 

As I sit on this bus, traveling across the sprawling city, I am not rattled by the noise, the crowds of people, the army checkpoints, or even the political tensions of a torn and divided country. Even though I am leaving a long day of studies and classes for an evening of meetings and more study, and my life seems packed, I have peace. I have found sacred space in my life, which I have had to carve out through deliberate choice. In my attempts to make prayer and reflection on scripture a daily discipline, I find that God truly is my sanctuary and refuge.

The Lord invites each of us to spend time with him alone, to meditate on his words, to be quiet before him. This quiet can be scary in some ways. In fact, most often when I try to spend time in quiet reflection I find my mind racing despite my best efforts: “I can’t forget to send this email. Then I have to cook dinner. Wasn’t that a cool scene in that movie yesterday? Oh no, my Biochem exam is tomorrow.” and the list goes on…

I know that “finding sanctuary” is not easy. I still have to work at keeping my time for prayer free of other things that demand my attention. The competition for my time and attention – the pressures of the world that push and pull and demand and grab me are still there. Everything is urgent, is now, is a priority, is pressing. Yet so very little of it has lasting importance. The Lord, on the other hand, simply asks, invites, and welcomes, respecting my freedom to choose for him. What he offers in exchange is of eternal significance, everlasting worth, and brings peace in the present circumstances of my life. 

The Lord does not force, he only knocks on the door. It is my choice, and your choice as well, to take time out of the day’s busy-ness to be alone with him. In the end I know that I am not doing God a favor by spending time with him. God shows his favor to me, by giving me life – his abundant life, and rest for my weary heart, mind, and body, and lasting peace for my soul as well. 

My hope and my prayer is that you, too, will find sanctuary and refuge in the Lord as you make time and space to listen to him in your daily life.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; 
he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;  for you are with me;  your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
                                    - Psalm 23
[Brian Shell is an affiliate member of the Servants of the Word. He is currently a university student in Beirut and actively involved in University Christian Outreach.]
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