For the past several years, I have always lived in or near major cities. I can genuinely say that I enjoy city-life; as one who likes to write, I enjoy observing people and the environments in which they live. I also enjoy the many opportunities that our modern metropolises have to offer, from art exhibits and musical performances to architectural masterpieces and museums. Cities are like magnets for skillful people: they attract and possess huge concentrations of amazing human talent and the marvels that come with it.
The Sound of Silence
Needless to say, just as much as they are full of human ingenuity and invention, cities are saturated with noise. As a naturally introverted individual, I find that to survive city-life, I need to get out on a regular basis. As much as cities attract me, I also feel drawn to quiet and desolate places where you hear nothing but silence.
When I was working in New York, I always looked forward to visiting my family in Utah. On one occasion, after traveling from a parish near Times Square to our home near Salt Lake City, I put on my hiking boots as soon as I could and climbed nearby Lewis Peak, relishing the solitude and silence that was all the more peaceful in contrast to the noisiness of Manhattan.
One of my favorite places in Utah is on the northern end of the Great Salt Lake, a remote place known as Promontory Point. To get there, one has to drive miles and miles on a dirt road through treeless ranch land until you reach the saline-saturated shores of the Salt Lake. At Promontory Point, one finds Spiral Jetty, an earthwork created by artist Robert Smithson out of mud, rocks, water, and precipitated salt crystals.
Even though the location is not easy to reach, it still daily attracts at least a handful of curious people who want to see the earthwork. When I go there, I park the car near Spiral Jetty but then walk away from it along the shore until I find a lonely, out-of-sight spot where I sit and bask in the silence. There is something special about being alone in a place where there is no other sign of humanity: for me, it is a privileged time to listen to the Spirit, to forget the worries and distractions of the world, and to remember God’s personal love for me.
Whether we physically live in a city or not, we all live in a virtual city. Thanks to our gadgets, we are never far from the all that our urbanized world has to offer. With just a click of the mouse or a tap on the app, we can deluge ourselves with an infinite amount of words written about anything and everything. Having access to such a smorgasbord can be intellectually distracting, emotionally overwhelming, and spiritually paralyzing.
The Beauty of Silence
As spiritual beings, we are made for more: our hearts and minds tend towards Someone who made us for Himself, who has the capacity of satiating our every desire and giving us complete peace. The problem is that because He transcends us He is not immediately accessible to our reason, which is slowed down by its reliance on sensible information.
So, when given the choice either to reach out to our transcendent God or, say, to watch a movie or check Facebook, we tend to reach for the latter because it is easier to see and more immediately gratifying. However, if we take the time to discipline our senses a little and distance ourselves from the distractions of this info-saturated world that we inhabit, the experiences of God that result are indescribably so much more meaningful and beautiful.
Twitter and iPhones are great things, but sometimes it is healthy to take a break, in the way that a scientist closes himself in his laboratory or an artist retreats to his studio: to be truly creative and find personal fulfillment, we must find ways to distance ourselves from the constant hoopla and ballyhoo of the world that surrounds us. To be peaceful and happy, we must find silence in the city.
I think that Lent is all about taking this break. It is a beautiful opportunity to take a step back and focus on what is really important.
How to Find Silence and Peace This Lent
I recently read a blog post in which the author suggests something that he calls “input deprivation week”. The idea is to go a whole week without consuming unneeded information so as to focus on productivity. He challenges the reader to go seven entire days with no Facebook, no blogs, no books, no TV, no movies, no Reddit, no Twitter, and no talk radio. According to him, a week of dedicated input-deprivation is an amazing catalyst for creativity, so he advises that anyone doing it should always have a notebook handy to write down the numerous thoughts and inspirations that come.
I think that this suggestion is not only good for boosting personal productivity but also for improving one’s spiritual life. Every time we curb exterior stimuli, we create a calm and peaceful inner disposition that is conducive to listening to our Creator, to the only One who can give us total peace.
So here’s an idea for your Lent (which starts next Wednesday): deprive yourself of input! Do a personal input-deprivation week, or perhaps choose to limit your use of one or two forms of input until Easter. For example, you could give up TV and spend evenings reading instead, perhaps choosing books from among the classics of Western literature (check out Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime to get some ideas). Another idea: instead of turning on the radio every time you get into the car or popping in your earphones whenever you go out, try going around in silence. You will be amazed by how much God will take advantage of the quiet in your soul.
My Personal Commitment
Lately, I have been feeling the Spirit moving me to simplify my life so that I can better listen to Him. This Lent, I have decided to translate this general movement of my soul into concrete action: I am going to go on input deprivation for the entire Lenten season. This may be a little ambitious, but I am going to give it a shot!
Since I am in the middle of studies, obviously I will have to keep reading the prescribed texts, but outside of that, I am going to commit myself to the following:
- No extra-curricular books
- No radio/no podcasts
- No YouTube
- No Facebook and no Instagram
- No movies
- No documentaries
- No magazines or newspapers
So, what will I do with all of the extra time on my hands? I am going to leave that up to the Holy Spirit, but I am sure He has some adventures in store, as He always does. I will keep you posted!