Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cell Phones and Silence

Continuing the cell phone theme . . .

In the 11/2/09 edition of Newsweek, columnist Julia Baird reminds us that, in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, the devil brags that "We will make the whole universe a noise . . . We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end." She explains that Christian scholars in medieval times believed that Satan did not want people to have time alone with God or their fellowman in which they could be "fully alert and listening."

Baird mentions a book by Sara Maitland, a British author who traveled through deserts and hills and spent 40 days in an isolated house in the remote Scottish Highlands in an attempt to discover what silence truly is. Maitland "believes the mobile phone is a 'major breakthrough for the powers of hell.'" In her work, A Book of Silence, Maitland says, "I am convinced that as a whole society we are losing something precious in our increasingly silence-avoiding culture, and that somehow, whatever this silence might be, it needs holding, nourishing, and unpacking."

Baird reveals that Maitland's book made her "realize what a profound longing many of us have for silence, how hard it is to find, and how easily we forget how much we need it." Baird concludes, "I know, [this article] sounds like the lament of the Luddite. But if generations of mystics and seekers have insisted that there's something that connects silence with the sublime, you have to wonder what we are distracting ourselves from--and who we could be if, every now and then, we paused."

I do believe humans have a longing for silence. I know I do. I love to be in a silent house. I can stay home all day, doing chores, reading, whatever, without ever turning on the TV or the radio, but I rarely get to spend a day like this. Many people turn on the TV as soon as they get up, but continuous electronic background chatter shreds my nerves. It's been a long time ago now, but I remember one of the most moving HU chapels I've ever experienced was devoted to silence. No one said a word while messages on the screen in front of us challenged our dependence on electronic noise and busyness and encouraged us to spend more time "being still and knowing."

I'm not against electronic gadgets. I've got a lot of them--laptop, BlackBerry, ipod, etc. I use them and I like having them. At the same time, I often feel as if they are more in charge of my time than I am. I read the other day of a communications professor who challenged her students to go on a technology fast for one weekend--from Friday at the end of class until classes resumed Monday morning. Her students were aghast. They really didn't think it was possible.

I think Maitland's book may have to be added to my must-read list.


Sarah said...

I feel so rebellious whenever I go for 24 hours without checking my email! What does this say about me?

Stephanie said...

That you have a life! But you feel a little guilty about it?