Alexandra Levine, a Metro reporter for The New York Times, covering a high profile court case, wrote of being forced to go phoneless while viewing the trial. The courthouse had required observers to check their electronics before entering the building. Levine writes, “The experience was at once inconvenient and enjoyable, disorienting and liberating.” She also said after a day with no texting, email or internet, it occurred to her the courtroom “might be one of the few spots left in the city where New Yorkers could fully disconnect.”
The experience led Levine to explore what other venues in the city required one to temporarily cut the cyber pipeline. She found in a place as large and varied as New York City, it mostly came down to courtrooms, federal buildings, jails, some museums, a few restaurants and various performance sites.
Generally, the museums and restaurants simply ask visitors to shut off their electronic gadgets; but some performance spaces now require audience members to place their cell phones in provided pouches that include a lock technology that prevents people from using the devices. They can keep their phones with them, but the pouches make it impossible to snap pictures, shoot videos or send text messages during the performance. Your only option is to simply watch the show. Gasp!
Such restrictions are necessary because so many of us have become compulsive users of our communication devices. We could, of course, simply shut off our electronics from time to time and create our own disconnected zones, but how many of us actually do it?
This brings us to the text from Psalm 132, where we hear the writer of this Psalm quoting King David who said, “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
It’s not immediately obvious, but these words are David’s vow to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The Ark was the object that symbolized for Israel God’s presence, and the meaning of David’s statement is “I’ll not rest until I bring the Ark to Jerusalem, where it can be set in a proper location.”
This is one place in the Bible where the surface meaning of the words might be more important for us in terms of spiritual insight than the meaning in context. When the psalmist says, “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord,” we can hear in it as a resolution to intentionally make a “place”, to make room in our day— to think about our lives in the light of God’s will.
Making room. It’s a concept that might seem as challenging, if not more challenging, than disconnecting from our devices. Making room is challenging in our worlds today because there isn’t much room for the things we have to do—the things that already make us so…busy.
Also writing in The New York Times, journalist Tim Kreider shares his observation of the countless people who speak of how busy they are, some even saying they are “crazy busy.”
He notes, “Almost everyone I know is busy. And not only are they busy, they feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications.”
As an example, Kreider tells of texting to a friend to ask if he wanted to do something that week. The friend answered he didn’t have a lot of time, but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. Kreider commented, “I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some possible future invitation; rather my question was the invitation.”
The point of Kreider’s article was that for many people, busyness is not something imposed on them, but the result of things they have taken on voluntarily. “They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety,” Kreider says, “because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”
Is that true?
Do we dread what we have to face in the absence of busyness? It’s a foreign concept to me, but maybe it’s not for you.
Nonetheless…whether this description fits you or not, think of it in light of the words from our psalm reading: “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord.” The point taken here, we know, is just as we benefit from unplugging from the digital world, we also gain something helpful by intentionally making room in our daily lives for God.
Now, of course, there’s a problem with this. Making room in our lives for God can imply we’ve reduced our attention to God to a half hour or so. But what about the other twenty three and a half hours? We miss the point, and benefit, if we have devotions but then walk away with the idea that we’ve done our duty to God and can now get on with other things.
In the 14th century, philosopher, theologian and mystic, Meister Eckhart who lived and worked in the Dominican Order was elected to be the administrator of his order in Saxony. This meant he had to manage 50 houses of friars and nine convents of nuns. Eckhart did the job, but he wasn’t content to leave his spiritual life behind in the chapel before heading off to the office each day.
Referring to this in a sermon, he said those who did such, “Are behaving no differently than if they took God, wrapped a coat around his head and shoved him under a bench.” I found this metaphor obtuse, yet pointed and striking.
To be clear, deliberate, intentional, scheduled devotional time is a good thing. But making room for God is more that scheduling fifteen minutes with God in the morning before sitting down to breakfast, or a few minutes at the end of the day before drifting off to sleep.
Making room for God suggests a temperament that puts us with God, where we listen for God, and to God, throughout the day.
Some of us would prefer the brief daily retreat during which we pray and read Scripture and/or devotional material— something along the lines of what Jesus urged in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” (Matthew 6:6).
But, this type of quiet retreat doesn’t work for everyone. Rare is there a boss who would be ok with locking yourself in a closet to pray.
But a mindset and actions told about in a 17th-century devotional classic titled The Practice of the Presence of God, written by a lay monk named Brother Lawrence, might give us some guidance.
Brother Lawrence was assigned to work in the monastery’s kitchen, and while there, he was intentional in paying attention to God’s presence even while going about his duties.
As he developed the ability to do this, he found that, “The time of busyness does not differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I enjoy God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
It took practice, and intentionality, but Brother Lawrence was able to fuse together his work life and his spiritual life. And he did so by making room for God within the space he was.
Now, I realize this is all easier said than done. Not everybody can find room within the hustle of the kitchen or the bustle of a busy schedule, because it is just too distracting to promote that kind of attention to God.
But it is good, and right, and faithful for us to find whatever means works best for us to ponder not only the issues of life but also the things of God.
It is good and right and faithful to notice the world around us, and see the beauty of creation, see the face of a stranger holding a cardboard sign, slow down and look up from our devices and be present with the ones we love.
That too is an intentional effort for making room.
But there is this as well…
Theologian, professor, writer, and pastor, Rev. Dr. William Willimon, tells us, “We do not, perhaps we cannot, take time for God. But God in Christ takes time for us and interrupts us throughout the day, if we have the eyes of faith to see it. God takes time for us. God does not wait for us to fine-tune the spiritual disciplines. God grants us the freedom to be about our vocations in the world, doing what we have to do in this life. Then God suddenly shows up, unexpectedly becomes an event in our time and disrupts our lives. And there we find room with God.”
Making room with God.
It’s an idea I suspect all of us are open to.
But maybe we do dread what we would have to face if we did.
We might have to face that our worth is not based on our work. But then again, in that room, we’d find we are worthy because we already belong to God.
We might have to face that there are others who need us to be more fully present for them. But then again, in that room, we’d find that by simply being present, we are blessed to be a blessing.
See how it works?
Making room for God, and for God’s way, will never leave us with regret or dread. Rather it will leave us with just what we need. Room with God. Amen.