It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that we live in an age dominated by "noise." This refers not only to audible "noise" like the radio or YouTube videos, but also the numerous visual distractions that take us away from spending a moment in absolute silence.
According to recent studies, "In 2012, the average American consumed 13.6 hours of media each day. By 2015, that number is expected to rise to 15.5. These figures include media multitasking, e.g., listening to music while checking your email, so that it’s possible to consume more than one hour of media within a 60-minute period. Shockingly, those 13.6 hours don’t include any media consumed at work."
Another study, "discovered that the average person checks their device 85 times a day, spending a total of five hours browsing the web and using apps."
Unfortunately this modern addiction to "noise" has had many harmful side-effects, especially in regards to prayer. Because we are so distracted and our world filled with noise, we rarely stop to hear the voice of God and meditate on his presence in our lives. Or when we do try to stop, we feel distracted and unable to listen to God's voice.
In our modern world, we must step back and relearn one of God's primary ways to communicate with us: silence.
One of the most well-known passages in Scripture, when it comes to the volume of God’s voice, is the encounter of the prophet Elijah with God.
And [God] said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, theLord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13 RSVCE)
Elijah knew that God was not in the boisterous, loud noises outside, but was in the small quiet whisper. Some translations call the “still small voice,” “a whistling of a gentle air” (Douay-Rheims).
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author writes,
The words of the wise are heard in silence, more than the cry of a prince among fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17, Douay-Rheims, emphasis added).
Silence is a key way to hear God’s voice.
One of the most effective ways to combat the modern addiction to noise is to begin each day in silence. When you wake-up, don't check your cell phone or computer. Pray your Morning Offering and sit in silence for at least 15 minutes. Think about your day and give it all to God.
Another challenge would be to take a "tech sabbath" each week. Figure out which day of the week you can be entirely divorced from technology (typically Sunday) and turn everything off. If that seems daunting to you, try doing it for half the day or most of the day. The goal is to re-orient your life and allow more space for God to talk.
As we approach the beginning of Advent, a time in the Church year devoted to silent expectation, consider taking measures to increase the silence in your life. It may be hard to do, but it will be well worth it in the end.
God wants to speak with you and sometimes all we need to do is unplug.