Why I keep thinking of Edgar Allen Poe’s works these days, I’ve no idea, but here’s a bit from the opening stanza of The Raven:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
A little later, “Nevermore.”
I was reminded of that when I thought on all the noise and distractions, all the rapping rapping and tapping tapping of the world. All those noises and distractions, from cell phones to the internet to co-workers interrupting can have such an impact on productivity that companies have begun to study it. These studies indicate that it takes four minutes to get back on task following an interruption, so if your cellphone chimes ten times a day for personal business and you are on the call or responding to a text for two minutes, then between the call or text and the recovery time, you’ve lost an hour of work. All the time lost in a year cost businesses about $800 billion in lost salaries. That may not bother you much if you are the one getting the paycheck, but all the noise harms us in other ways.
Bernie Krause is one who records bioacoustics – he records the sounds of nature. Now this may seem a bit of an odd job for some, but what is interesting is that Krause reports that back in 1968 it took about 15 hours of recording to get one hour of pristine sound, a recording with absolutely no manmade noise in the background – no airplanes, cars, voices, machines, and so on. 15 hours to get one hour. Today, Krause reports, in North America it takes him 2,000 hours of recording to get the same one hour of pristine sound. That is a lot of noise and Krause provides an example of the effect the noise has on animals.
It would seem that in a lake in California there is a community of frogs, that because of the level of manmade noise, can no longer protect themselves. Krause reports, “The reason that frogs all chorus together is because no predator can get a bead on anyone,” but when a jet plane flew overhead, the frog’s unified chorus was broken. Krause says he then witnessed predators homing in on individual frogs. “Great horned owls flew in and got frogs and coyotes got frogs,” says Krause.
Now, I was a bit apprehensive in using this piece of information, because I was afraid that someone would call Bishop Ed and say, “Fr John compared us all to a bunch of California frogs,” however, there is a lesson in there for all of us when we consider the “noise” as being representative of all the distractions around us. Not just sound, but worries, pressures, demands, etc.
Consider the parable of the sower and the seeds. Some seeds fell along the road and were snatched up by the bird, some seed fell on the rocky ground and although it grew, it soon withered because it had no roots, and other seed fell on good ground and grew and produced good fruit. But there were also some seed that fell among the thorns and although it grew, “the thorns sprang up and choked them.” When Jesus explains the plight of these seeds, he says, “He who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” The world around us, the noise around us, the rapping and tapping can become so overwhelming and oppressive that we, like those California frogs are no longer protected and we become a target for our enemy. As a result, we lose our peace. We get caught up in all sorts of anxieties and more easily fall into despair.
So when the noises of this world come against us, when the thorns spring up and seek to choke off that peace of God within us, what can we do?
A young man had a long list of things he wanted to accomplish in his life, but some of the task were rather daunting and even though he wanted to succeed in them, he felt very anxious about them, so he took a sheet of paper and wrote them all down, signed the list, and then took it to his church where he placed it on the altar. However, after several days, he still felt overwhelmed and anxious, so he wrote out the same list, but also included all the things he wouldn’t do, including all the sins that he would never commit, signed that list, and again placed it on the altar at his church. Yet, instead of finding peace about his life, he became even more anxious. He was even anxious because he was anxious. With no idea how to proceed, he decided to take the matter up with his priest. He brought his list, explained it in detail, and then asked what he might do in order to find peace in his life. The priest was very wise. He handed the young man a fresh sheet of paper, had him sign it, and then told him to place that on the altar.
The world is a noisy place. It can and will distract and oppress us. It can and will rob us of our peace, but by returning – not just our anxieties and plans – but our entire beings to God and submitting to him, by returning to the shelter of his wings in prayer and worship, he will sustain us and grant us that peace that surpasses all understanding. St. Augustine was correct when he wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” (Confessions)
It is that rest, that peace that God gives to us. Matthew Henry wrote, “When Christ died He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples, who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better—His peace!” As he said at the Last Supper, on the night before he was crucified, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Traditionally, the first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Hope and last week we discovered that our hope lies in the eternal promises of God. The second Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of peace. It is this peace that was ushered in at the birth of Jesus and the coming of this peace that was announced to the world by John the Baptist when he fulfilled his calling “as the one crying out in the wilderness.”
This peace does not mean that there will be an absence of “noise,” but it does mean that in the midst of it, there will be present a calm assurance that the Lord will indeed, “never leave us or forsake us.”
In one Peanuts cartoon Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “I hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the whole wide world!”
Charlie Brown says, “But I thought you had inner peace.”
Lucy replies, “I do have inner peace. But I still have outer obnoxiousness.”
When the outer obnoxiousness, the noise, the rapping and the tapping begin to rob you of the peace of God, then it is time to return to God. As the Lord said to the people through the Prophet Zechariah, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you.” (Zechariah 1:3)
Let us pray: O God, from whom all holy desires, all right counsels and all just works do proceed; give unto Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that both our hearts may be set to obey Thy commandments, and also that we, being delivered from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time, under Thy protection, in rest and quietness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.