IVP - Strangely Dim - The Quiet Will Inherit the Earth

August 29, 2011

The Quiet Will Inherit the Earth

My sister grew up Irish Catholic. Her husband grew up Quaker. For some reason this is funny to me. At my most awfully gleeful I sat at her wedding, a mashup of Roman Catholic rite and Quaker meeting, waiting for the moment of silence to find out which of my loud Irish uncles would crack under the pressure and shout something ridiculous. Nobody took the bait, sadly, and the wedding proceeded without incident.

Silence is not a significant part of my heritage. I'm a bit of a loudmouth when I want to be, and I regularly enjoy the often boisterous interaction of friends and family. My personal blog is called "Loud Time," for Pete's sake. But my college flirtation with evangelicalism introduced me to quiet time, which is something of an identity marker for evangelicals, and the more I think about it, the more I think it's one of the more important things going right now.

quiet time.jpgQuiet times are intended as a daily practice that collects together a variety of devotional activities and spiritual disciplines. In the morning, when you rise, the logic goes, the first fruits of your day ought to go to God, by means of prayer, Bible reading, meditation, solitude, silence and private worship. It's your one-stop shop for spiritual growth. Some people are not morning people, of course, so concessions are made such as the evening quiet time, or the midday quiet time, or other more sporadic times of quiet. The main thing is that your piety be buttressed by (and often measured by) the amount of time you dedicate to being still and knowing God is God.

Evangelicals aren't the first to come up with devotional practices and spiritual disciplines, of course. Monks do this stuff every hour on the hour. But monks, by and large, live in cloister, whereas evangelicals tend to live in the real world--cloistered in their own cliques though we may be. Finding a quiet space for a morning quiet time before the morning commute, or before shuttling off the kids to their daily activities, or before looking for a job or a spouse or a next meal or whatever is compelling us on any given day--this is how we do spiritual sustenance in the real world.

At least, that's how we did it before everything went limitless. Now the news cycle is constant, our friends and family even when physically distant are virtually present, our email and text messages and tweets and status updates buzz and brrrring and otherwise beckon. Now there is no quiet time because there is no quiet place. We are harried and helpless, like robots without an off switch.

This is why I'm starting to think that the quiet will inherit the earth.

The quiet time was never really natural. It's a technology, the same as (though, in true postmodern fashion, also radically different from) the printed Bible as a technology for Bible reading, or the guitar as a technology for musical worship. It's the same in that it's a devised means of facilitating a desirous outcome, a utility that makes it easier to do certain things, and leads to those things being done more fully and more effectively. It's different, of course, in that it's immaterial--the quiet time isn't so much a thing as it is, well, a thing. But with a liberal enough definition, even such an immaterial thing can be thought of as technology.

The thing about technologies is that they first get made, and then they start making. Someone once had the bright idea that people use a quiet time to organize and ritualize their devotional lives, and then it became an identity marker and a way of explaining what devotional life is. Meanwhile, someone once had the bright idea that our music, literature, visual media and communications technologies ought to all reside in a cloud city that was always overhead and within reach. That idea caught on quickly and has completely reoriented life. Consider the insights from Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains:

shallows.jpgIn the choices we have made, consciously or not, about how we use our computers, we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration. . . . As the time we spend scanning Web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, as the time we spend exchanging bite-sized text messages crowds out the time we spend composing sentences and paragraphs, as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation, the circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses for other, more pressing work.

Our minds are carried along with us as we give ourselves entirely to technologies of distraction. We are never alone, never unhurried, never undistracted, never quiet. Except for those lucky folks who keep a quiet time.

They say that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. I'd like to suggest that in the land of the manic, those who can keep still are kings and queens in waiting. In stillness we are reminded that God is Lord and we are not, while those who are never still too easily forget that they are not God and busy themselves trying to do what only God can do, to merit what only God merits. In stillness we have the occasion to contemplate the wrongs we have done and the wrongs done to us, as well as the opportunity to discern the path of wisdom for the day. No such opportunity exists for the constantly distracted, who too often stumble in the dark and too rarely heal from their own wounds or repent of their own wrongdoing. The quiet time has become the check and balance against the dominant technologies of our time, a daily occasion to remind ourselves that we serve God, not our machines or ourselves.

So when all you quiet people inherit the earth, do me a favor and remember me, track me down, take my iPhone away from me and invite me to enjoy the silence with you. I'm not a particularly quiet person, but I know what's good for me.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at August 29, 2011 2:36 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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