The world is an extreme­ly busy place. Its busy­ness is fre­quent­ly of a kind that sucks us in and leaves us breath­less. In our glob­al­ized, tech­nol­o­gized world, we are inun­dat­ed with noise, news, crowds, infor­ma­tion, and enter­tain­ment. Dis­trac­tions bom­bard us dai­ly, all too often divert­ing our atten­tion from the most impor­tant things.

Per­haps this is just the acci­den­tal char­ac­ter of our age — or per­haps some­thing more spir­i­tu­al­ly alarm­ing is going on. Richard Fos­ter writes, Our Adver­sary the dev­il majors in three things: noise, hur­ry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in much­ness’ and many­ness,’ he will rest sat­is­fied.” In any case, in such a hec­tic, frag­ment­ed, unruly envi­ron­ment, we our­selves also become deeply, dis­cour­ag­ing­ly fragmented.

How can believ­ers in the holy Trin­i­ty regain their cen­ter, their ground­ing, the inte­gra­tion of the mind with the heart? How can we learn to set habit­u­al­ly our inter­nal com­pass toward the true north,” toward Christ him­self? Our ancient broth­ers and sis­ters sug­gest that we can suc­ceed only by find­ing space” that is calm enough, set­tled enough, free enough from dis­trac­tions and com­pet­ing voic­es, that we can once again dis­cern the qui­et, insis­tent voice of God call­ing us into his won­der­ful, breath­tak­ing mystery.

What kind of space” are we talk­ing about? It may be an open field or a star­ry sky. Or it may sim­ply be any free, unre­strict­ed, unhur­ried set­ting that can nur­ture health and growth and life. It includes inte­ri­or space,” that is, spa­cious­ness in our emo­tion­al and inner life, where we so fre­quent­ly need free­dom from the demands and urges and anx­i­eties that seem to fill us. It includes the spaces” of our local church fel­low­ship, so that inten­tion­al loca­tions and times and atti­tudes can chal­lenge and trans­form the tedious busi­ness of every­day life. It also includes the spaces” of our phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment, what we reg­u­lar­ly see and hear and touch, for our sur­round­ings will inevitably have a sub­tle but deci­sive influ­ence upon our spir­i­tu­al equi­lib­ri­um, either sup­port­ing or pre­vent­ing our devel­op­ment of what is good and true and beautiful.

Think of ancient desert dwellers such as Antony. Ear­ly desert believ­ers found this kind of mul­ti­fac­eted space” in the beau­ti­ful and harsh desert geog­ra­phy that many of them inhab­it­ed day and night. The desert offered intense, unremit­ting soli­tude and silence, so that Chris­tians could learn to lis­ten intent­ly to Scrip­ture, to hear the voice of God in prayer, to enter the litur­gy of the church, to con­front their own habit­u­al thoughts, and to rejoice in the unique sounds and silences pre­sent­ed by this par­tic­u­lar part of God’s cre­ation, so stark, silent, and demanding.

There were few dis­trac­tions in the desert; present here were only the imme­di­ate, unavoid­able real­i­ty of one­self (one’s deep­est dis­po­si­tions, one’s strongest loves – good and bad) and the liv­ing God. Here, space” of the pro­duc­tive, fruit­ful kind was at a maximum.

The sacred open­ness of the desert is a live option for very few mod­ern Chris­tians and in our con­tem­po­rary con­text sim­i­lar learn­ing spaces” are dif­fi­cult to find. Yet find them — or cre­ate them — we must, for the knowl­edge of God will rarely be avail­able with­out them. If we are to enter deeply into Christ, we need a con­sis­tent space in which prayer­ful, wor­ship­ful reflec­tion can occur, in which steady, mea­sured med­i­ta­tion and immer­sion in the Scrip­tures is sup­port­ed and sus­tained, in which we are forced to deal with the issues, dis­trac­tions, and habits that squelch wor­ship rather than nur­ture it.

For us today such space might be found in a chapel, a clos­et illu­mi­nat­ed by a can­dle, a dai­ly walk, a soup kitchen, a hos­pi­tal ward, a prison, a hos­pice. The list of pos­si­bil­i­ties seems end­less. Keep your eyes open for the space” the Lord is offer­ing you. And pon­der with me this spe­cif­ic ques­tion: What spe­cif­ic, strate­gic steps can I take to intro­duce a deep­er, recep­tive silence and space into my inner life, my com­mu­ni­ty, and my phys­i­cal environment?”

This series has been adapt­ed from Steven D. Boy­er and Chris Hall’s The Mys­tery of God: The­ol­o­gy for Know­ing the Unknow­able. Hun­gry for more? Please vis­it Bak­er Aca­d­e­m­ic for more information.

Pho­to by Gilles Rol­land-Mon­net on Unsplash

Text First Published November 2016 · Last Featured on April 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

View Selections & Learn More >