This is a noisy life. Last night, for a rare treat, our trio went to dinner — a crowded restaurant with a steady wait. Unrecognizable music piped through the wide-open space. So many voices rumbled. Three massive HDTV screens showed three different athletic events. It was loud.
A large group arrived. Friends or family — it was unclear. Sixteen of them, from small children to senior citizens, gathered around a massive table. How wonderful they had made time to be together! But quickly, phone after phone came out.
This is the pot calling the kettle black, of course. Our little one had long since finished eating when our meal arrived. We had colored and played games. Out came my phone for her to play PBS Kids. Why is it so hard for us simply to be together, to be with one another? We are driven to distraction.
A religious education professor had students engage in a “distraction journal.” While reading or writing for class, we were to jot down when our minds wondered away from the assignment. His premise was simple: Our distractions served as evidence of the stirring places in our lives ... and perhaps God desires for us to attend to them. In other words, don’t dismiss the distraction. Ask what you can learn from it.
It seems these are two different sorts of distractions. But can God be in both? Certainly ... if we seek to perceive God in them. Maybe that is the core of the journal lesson? Franciscans in particular believe that God is in all things. I believe so as well.
“Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you,” says Proverbs 4:25. Look ahead.
As I drove along a familiar road recently, I caught myself. It curves and dips, yes. It runs through the heart of a valley with lovely, tree-lined mountains on either side. This path I have traveled countless times in my life.
Still, this week, as smoke hung low against the mountains, the fog seemed to force my eyes to see it anew. A church sits at the end of the valley as the road begins to rise upward once more. I saw the cross the people of the congregation had erected there many years ago. I’d never seen it that way before. From the north end to the south, it stands like a beacon. Usually, I notice it only as I drive in front of the church. But my eyes could see it more clearly, after I’d always been distracted on my daily journey to and fro. A huge cross standing firmly on the hill for decades, and I had not witnessed its presence over the valley in such a clear, peaceful way.
I wonder how many others have missed it? How many of us cannot see what is right before us? How many are discomforted by it? How many find consolation or hope?
Are we too busy with traffic, our radios, kids in the backseat, thoughts of the day ahead or gone by, a sense of guilt and shame, concern for our loved one sick in the hospital, the news of a friend who died last night, how to pay the rent, fear over conflict at work, what to do with a floundering relationship, when to make out a will, or what do I want to do if my heart stops — resuscitate or let me pass?
Surely, God is in all of the distractions, the thoughts, the memories, the concerns and the dreams.
The cross still stands whether the leaves are on the trees or snow falls upon them, scattered along the forest floor. The cross still stands as “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” as the old hymn goes. It remains whether we see it or not. God is present whether we see God or not.
“Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes
on what lies before you.”