September 21, 2016
One day last week, as I narrowly avoided a smartphone addict who had failed to notice a red light and wandered into the path of my car, it occurred to me (after I thanked God for good reflexes) that this fellow had overlooked more than my car and a red light. He had missed a beautiful day with a cloudless sky. He probably has missed more than that.
You’ve probably been in a restaurant where people come in, sit down and deposit their phones on the table. But have you watched these people or, worse, tried to have a conversation with them? Conversations, if they take place at all, are all disjointed. These people don’t really hear one another. They’re too busy studying their screens. Social media or, more accurately, addiction to it makes communication difficult for human beings.
Most ominously of all, they cannot hear the voice of God, who speaks in the quiet of their hearts.
Now, many people think that being bombarded with information is a 21
st century phenomenon. It’s not. Way back in the late fourth and early fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo experienced a version of communication overload. The late Father Donald X. Burt, OSA, a Villanova University scholar of Augustine, wrote that Augustine once told a friend that he thought it would be easier to bear the difficulties and storms of the wilderness than things humans suffer in the everyday “busyness of life.” He realized that he had so much “noise” coming in that he could not find that quiet place within himself to contemplate God or, as Augustine liked to call him, the Divine Teacher.
Augustine had a method for overcoming the noise. Let me share it with you He called it pious listening and he achieved this through quiet solitude. We’d call this unplugging. That’s right. Turn off the mobile and go find a quiet spot to sit, a place where no one can disturb you. Once there, clear your head of all the busy-ness of the day – all the planning, the texting and the worrying - then open your mind to God and wait. You’ll hear the Divine Teacher.
If you’d like to learn more the way Augustine searched for God, here’s the name of Father Burt’s Book,
“Let me know you”:
Reflections on Augustine’s Search for God (Liturgical Press, 2003). It’s not in e-book form. It’s a paperback and that’s a good thing. You can take it with you to your quiet place and then let Augustine guide you.