Hearing God's Word in an `age of distraction'

IN a review of the recent book by historian Harry S. Stout entitled The New England Soul, a rather amazing statistic is noted. During the lifetime of the average Puritan in seventeenthcentury colonial New England, each man and woman listened to ``more than 7,000 sermons requiring some 15,000 hours of concentrated attention.''1 The people were hungry to be assured of God's will and purpose. They were struggling to survive, and they knew God would have to be at the center of whatever life they might hope to carve out of the wilderness. Frivolous distractions to the mind and spirit were few.

Today, of course, it's a different story. Ours seems to be an age of a constant seeking after entertainment, amusement, recreation -- an age of distraction. The world hardly ever seems quiet enough to listen for God's message. Society today appears to be light-years away from what, in the review of Mr. Stout's book, is described as an era that represented ``the sort of cultural stillness without which the Word cannot be heard.''

Is there a way to challenge this distraction, to find a stillness and inner peace in spite of the world's clamoring for our attention? Christ Jesus must have thought such stillness to be vitally important. When he spoke to his followers about prayer, he directed them to a kind of sanctuary -- a quietness of heart and mind and spirit where God's leading could be realized. He said, ``When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.''2

Perhaps an important element in finding the quietness we need has to do with a virtue that might sound a little oldfashioned today. It's discipline. When we are confronted over and over with diversions that provide no real nourishment for spiritual development, we need to be disciplined enough to turn away from the distraction and to make our own opportunities to pray, to study the Bible, to rejoice in God's goodness. This needs to be a discipline with humility, spiritual purpose, rooted in our love of good.

In their study of the Bible, students of Christian Science use another book that they have found deepens their understanding of the Scriptures. This book is Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.3 It speaks plainly of what the Science of Christ affords today's Christian: ``A higher and more practical Christianity, demonstrating justice and meeting the needs of mortals in sickness and in health, stands at the door of this age, knocking for admission.'' Then Science and Health asks, ``Will you open or close the door upon this angel visitant, who cometh in the quiet of meekness, as he came of old to the patriarch at noonday?''4

The Old Testament patriarchs surely had spiritual discipline. They knew what came first in their lives; and when God directed, they heard the message. What they heard, and what they did with what they heard, changed the world.

Today the practical Christianity of Christian Science teaches that God is infinite good, omnipresent Spirit and Love, the power that creates, governs, and sustains His spiritual creation. Man is God's pure expression, the reflection of Spirit, the image and likeness of Love.

This man is your real being, not a fanciful hope. To know God as He is -- this allows us to know ourselves as we are. Such an understanding of God and such spiritual self-knowledge provide dominion, strength, joy, the way of Christhealing, and real satisfaction in living. Nothing is more practical than scientific Christianity as it works in us to transform our thinking and renew our lives.

The distractions of materialism wear pretty thin after a season. The heart finally awakes to the emptiness and pettiness and yearns to be filled with something worthwhile, permanent, unselfish.

Sometimes our need is simply to stop running around, stand still, and know God. Then our lives will move forward. We'll feel good about life. We'll do God's work and find the real joy of it. Our hearts will rest in ``quietness and assurance,'' as the Bible says, ``for ever.''5

1See Kenneth L. Woodward, ``When God Had No Competition,'' Newsweek, October 20, 1986, p. 73. 2Matthew 6:6. 3The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 4Science and Health, p. 224. 5Isaiah 32:17.

This is a condensed version of an editorial that appeared in the March 23 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: I will hear what God the Lord will speak. Psalms 85:8

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