Recently I spent a couple of days and nights in the Catskills, remote and unlinked from the bustling matrix of the city. Two aspects of that geography struck me (well, three if you count the mountains).
There was brilliant silence to the place. It was as though someone had pressed the mute button on the remote. No noise. Birdsong rippling across wooded terrain, snow blanketed and frigidly cold, the place was just QUIET. Then on the first night as I walked in the cold silence I peered into the dark ink sky and noticed how bright the stars were. They pierced laser sharp holes in the fabric. And I realized, there was no light pollution here like there is in the city.
Let me make two points about spirituality or a life disciplined by the spirit. And these two points are, I would suggest, universal for religious traditions or thoughtful life. That is, these lessons are not tied to a Christian doctrine of any sort. First, silence is requisite for hearing oneself and asking the right questions. Noise from the entertainment consumer culture of which you and I are a part is an enemy of the spirituality. And certainly, in a religious tradition like Christianity, where hearing the Word of the speaking God is simply essential, noise acts as a riptide, pulling us away from the shore. Take deep breaths at some point in your day. Deep, slow breaths in silence so you can listen to the mystery of your life pulsating at your wrists and in your chest. The problem is not so much that you cannot hear God or your life but that you hear too well and the still, small voice of God goes ignored. Second, the themes of night and day begin in Genesis and perhaps culminate in the Light of the World language used by the Gospel of John. That is, night is a handy metaphor when things get to a point where we complain we cannot see God or see the handiwork of God’s love. Something happens to us–an event, a betrayal or a diagnosis–and often our first reaction is that God has abandoned us. But when I walked along that stretch of road in the Catskills that night and saw the illumination of stars so bright, I realized that it was the depth of the night which provided the opportunity to see. So this second point boils down to this: even when you walk in a dark valley or a night of sorrow, even there and perhaps especially there, the Light of God is brilliantly offered to you.
Practice silence. Hit the mute button, I dare you, I urge you. Find a way to stop listening to the noise around you for at least one hour in the day. Quiet. Listen. When it is dark, look up. Be illuminated.
This week I stepped into a local pharmacy which also stands in as a consumer- culture-consumed-with-consumables portal. I was there to pick up a prescription and as I left, I noticed that there were some Santas sitting in chairs with large tags on them that said, “75% off.” I wondered, is that the mark-up on these products then during season?
If your spirituality is pegged to a season like a Winter cold or Spring allergy then by all means, get yourself to a nunnery. Well, that’s Hamlet. You at least might consider that a spirituality marked up by 75% in season just might not be worth very much when the day arrives that you need something long-lasting and dependable in season and out.
This is not to say that Christianity (or Judaism) is unaware of seasons. Read Ecclesiastes chapter three. Wise is the person who knows what season they reside in. The sense of time in the bible that speaks to seasons, as in when the harvest is ready to be harvested, is replete throughout the scriptures. The sense of a Santa on sale for 75% is similar to the prophetic annunciation that life is like the grass of a field. It withers. Generations come and go.
I stopped in a local café and ordered up a “skinny peppermint mocha” since I know the time is rapidly approaching when these won’t be served. The café will move onto other “seasonal merchandise.” It’s okay to enjoy such seasons. But for your life, for the journey into the sacred and holy, the season of God’s love that knows no end, that rock of Christ upon which the Church is built, that dear reader, is a far better thing.
This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of 2014. It is, however, thousands of Sundays recurring through millennia ever to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world. Bring your little light into the sanctuary. I’ll bring mine. Others will bring theirs and we shall begin this year illuminated and full of the joy of God’s everlasting kingdom. Grace and Peace to you and all whom you love. ~PSTR