Today it's hard to escape that standard pre-show announcement in theaters and concert halls: "Before we begin, please make sure that your cell phones and other messaging devices are turned off."
Already, many people can scarcely imagine a life without these devices, especially the cellular telephone. But we also know how imprisoning they can be. Thumbs up to the many cartoons that help us keep a sense of humor about them. My favorite shows two business acquaintances on Fifth Avenue. They are standing two feet apart ... communicating face to face ... through cell phones.
To some people, modern communication devices connect, rescue, comfort, report. To others they can also isolate, threaten, annoy. Is there a way to strike a balance? You know, we aren't the first to complain about the distractions that lure people from occasions for meditation. In the middle of the 17th century, Blaise Pascal was moved to write, "I have often said that the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." One biblical preacher said, "Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit" (Eccl. 4:6).
So, where next? And does it matter that there is now so little refuge from the ubiquitous rings, clicks, and beeps of integrated circuitry? Author Richard Foster suggests in his book "Prayer" that through solitude God frees us from our bondage to people and from our own inner compulsions. "The less we are mesmerized by human voices," he writes, "the more we are able to hear the Divine Voice." In time, he adds, we find that "solitude gives us power not to win the rat race but to ignore the rat race altogether."
We need the contemplation of Spirit and the divine creation. Even moments of realizing that God is infinite and all-powerful are enough to build the "quietness and assurance" of which the Bible speaks (Isa. 32:17).
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote of Jesus' love of quietness, a quietness he shared with his disciples. "When he was with them," she said, "a fishing-boat became a sanctuary, and the solitude was peopled with holy messages from the All-Father. The grove became his class-room, and nature's haunts were the Messiah's university" ("Retrospection and Introspection," pg. 91).
Two thousand years ago, "this hillside priest, this seaside teacher," found his peace. He prayed, and as Mrs. Eddy's book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" puts it, "withdrew from the material senses to refresh his heart with brighter, with spiritual views" (pg. 32).
We all need time for this. I experienced some much-needed spiritual refreshment as recently as last week, when required to work on an ambitious project with some tough deadlines. During one unbroken stretch of 28 hours, characterized by quite a bit of "travail and vexation of spirit," I paused to think deeply about that biblical "handful" of quietness. I let the cell phone ring, and went out at 3 a.m. to pray under the stars. The peace and revitalization I felt were so complete that later, after just two hours of rest, I was able to work for another 10 hours without discomfort.
Times of aloneness should not be confused with self-centeredness or loneliness. There's nothing selfish or scary about them. It's in this aloneness that God waits to speak with us. It's in this spiritual awareness that we can instantly leave the rat race and listen to God's "holy messages" - His expressions of love for us.
Solitude can become a vibrant, positive state in which a person is receptive to ideas from God and is spiritually nourished. It is often the very place where we are inspired to do our part in calming and healing human lives - with or without a phone in the pocket.
In my distress I called
upon the Lord, and cried
to my God: and he did hear
my voice out of his temple,
and my cry did enter
into his ears.
II Samuel 22:7
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society