I’m so amazed at the busy schedules which our kids have -- even our youngest children -- their weeks and weekends are full of activities. But “busyness,” as you know, doesn’t end there. As we become adults we tend to have even more things to do. More work events, more appointments, more running around town, more things which require our time and attention. And on top of, around, and between, all of our busyness, we have the constant background noise of technology. Radio stations, headphones, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, texting; all of these things which we use to fill the cracks between our busyness. We are as busy and as noisy as we’ve ever been; constantly looking at our calendar to see what is next, constantly refreshing the feed, constantly on the move both in our bodies and minds. Busyness and noise, it seems, are unavoidable.
And of course I’m not criticizing our busyness. We are busy for a reason, typically a good one. Each of us is motivated to accomplish, to achieve, to strive for more and for better, and our busy lifestyles are certainly a product of that desire. As a priest I’m as busy as I have ever been. As a priest, too, my life is dictated by a calendar on my iPhone; my next appointment, my next meeting, my next visit. As a priest, even I love the occasional Netflix binge session (are you still watching?).
But there is a great temptation, I think, which can creep into our lives without much thought or attention -- especially for those of us who live busy and often times jam-packed lifestyles. A temptation which oftentimes masks itself as a good thing, when really it is a small seed which can sprout into a weed which is hard to uproot. It’s what the great spiritual writer Fr. Thomas Merton called: “the temptation of efficiency.” Now you might think: “Father, that can’t be right. To be efficient is a good thing! To get things done, to get more done, and to do it quickly.” But Fr. Merton goes on, he says: “Efficiency is one of the greatest obstacles to the spirit in the Western world. Because from government offices to kindergarten classrooms and everywhere in between, we have to keep things running, and there is little energy for anything else.” And my friends when we take an honest look into our lives; when busyness and noise begin to not just be a part of our lives, but all of our lives, what is the first thing to go? Spoiler alert: it’s not swimming lessons that get cut out. It’s not work appointments that get rescheduled. It’s not soccer tournaments that get sidelined. Not ski trips, or beach days, or Happy Hour which get the boot. But it’s our relationship with God in the form of prayer. That is usually the first thing to go.
Why? Because prayer is not efficient. Not only is it not efficient, but it is burdensome, tiring, and oftentimes even boring.
If you think about it we love to be efficient. Efficiency is this (according to the dictionary): achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. And, my friends, we love to try and make even our prayer efficient. We love to try and achieve maximum results with little effort or expense. I love it. And you know when we are beginning to fall into the temptation of being efficient pray-ers, when our prayers look and sound more like wish-lists and less like love letters. When my pray looks like my online Amazon cart, there is a problem. When my prayer becomes: “God, I’d like this and this and this, and and one-day shipping and gift wrapping” -- we become spiritual consumers. And, of course, when the package is delayed, when what I get isn’t what I expected, or is defective, what do I do? I return it to the seller. I leave a bad review. And I don’t buy from them again.
God is not Amazon. Holiness, is not like having a Prime membership. Praying is not the same as ordering or purchasing. Efficiency, consumerism, unrequired busyness, are obstacles to the spiritual life. Why? Because prayer -- authentic Christian prayer -- is much less about “doing” and much more about “being”.
We’ve been reading from the Gospel of John recently. Today, we hear Jesus say: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And at first we might think, ok Jesus is talking about rules. The thousands of rules that the Catholic Church has, I just need to follow them and I’ll be fine. But the greatest commandment which Jesus gives us in scripture is not so much about “doing,” as most rules and laws are -- but about being. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” In other words: “Be loving, be merciful, be kind, be just, be holy.” The Good News of Jesus Christ is not a rule book, it’s a recipe. Where we take raw ingredients -- our time, our energy, our attention -- and God creates a masterpiece.
And, my friends, true prayer -- authentic Christian prayer -- is the “fruit of silence” as Mother Teresa famously said. There is no way around it, silence and the spiritual life are friends. Just this morning (yesterday) we celebrated the ordination of Deacon Louis Cunningham in Renton. You may remember Deacon Louis from his time here as a seminarian. And if you’ve never been to an ordination of a deacon or priest, try and go, they are spectacular liturgies, like weddings, filled with wonderful music and beautiful prayers. But the biggest and most important moment of any ordination is the laying on of hands. It’s the moment when Archbishop Sartain rests his hands on top of the head of the man who is to be ordained. And in that moment there are no words, there is no music, there is only silence and the Holy Spirit.
Silence and the Holy Spirit go hand-in-hand, because God’s favorite way of communicating is by whispering. God doesn’t want to compete with the busyness of our lives, because he will never force himself upon us. God is constantly waiting for us. He waits for us at church, when we come to Mass on Sunday. He waits for us at home, when we kneel down to pray before bed. He waits for us throughout the day -- when we take a moment to thank him or to praise him in between our busy schedules. God is constantly waiting. Waiting for us to quiet down, to breathe, to be silent in mind, body, and spirit.
I’ll end with this short story. Years ago I went hiking with Father Mike and his brother Father Pat -- we were somewhere near Mount Rainier. It was a gorgeous summer day and we got up to the trail-head early in the morning. I was excited because this particular trail, according to Fr. Mike, was known for wild-life being nearby, so the whole time I’m thinking I will see some animals. So we continued hiking and I kept asking: “Father, where are these animals?” I would ask questions about the trail, about Mount Rainier, about being a priest, about when we would stop to eat. And about 30 minutes into the hike Father Mike stopped in front of me and turned around, and he said: “Kyle, be quiet."
Our simple challenge for this week: be quiet -- take a rest, each day, from the chaos, noise, and efficiency of the world. Look at that calendar and see, is giving time to God a priority in my life, or in my family’s life? Examine your prayers, how you talk to God, and ask: are these wish-lists, or conversations between friends? And let’s work on silence -- on turning off exterior and interior noise. Be quiet; God has so much to say.