One of my great joys is reading Blaise Pascal’s writings (1623-1662). He made huge contributions to the sciences of the 17th c., as a pioneer, especially in what we now call computers – he was a very smart young man.
After his premature death aged just 39, a collection of his thoughts and writings were printed in what is called Pensees, and they amount to a brilliant apologetic defense of Christianity.
He is most famous I guess for what we call ‘Pascal’s Wager’ – the argument that on the balance of probability, it is better and wiser to choose Christian faith in God than not.
He has many brilliant insights into human nature, and one of his most famous thoughts perfectly sums up the core of his argument, especially apt during this enforced slowing down of our way of life:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
According to Pascal, we fear the silence of existence, we dread boredom and instead choose aimless distraction, and we can’t help but run from the problems of our emotions into the false comforts of an over busy and very distracted mind.
The issue at the root, essentially, is that we never learn the art of solitude; many people actually fear silence. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), is one of the most loved verses in the Psalms, yet I suggest, one of the least obeyed – God knows it’s good for us to stop; sit down; and shut up that we may hear His voice, his still, small voice.
Yet, we are more connected than ever in of human history with each other, but perversely, we are disconnected from our very selves at many levels if not the foundational level.
Use this time, this strange and unique time, to get in touch with yourself, and with God, at a deeper level. Sit quietly in a room (children allowing of course), but give it a determined go.
What is likely to happen at first? Anxieties, distractions, thoughts, ideas, things to clean, attics to tidy, frozen peas that suddenly need to be counted inventoried.
We’ve all experienced this in prayer meetings. The mind wanders and leaps about. And those who have mastered this know this is well worth pushing through on. Those who haven’t mastered it, can so easily dismiss prayer as a semi-meaningless activity that is best got out of the way.
The Buddhist tradition has the best phrase for the restless mind at prayer: The Monkey Mind (I’ve mentioned it before on this blog). It describes a mind that is so restless, it is always leaping about like a deranged monkey,seeking distraction because the one thing it must never do is settle down to think and pray deeply.
If it is true that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”, then this season of enforced solitude in our homes seems to me to be a chance, even a God-given chance to grasp the opportunity, to face yourself before God, to dig deeper into the Big Existential Questions, to show the restless, distracting monkey in your mind and spirit that God is worth the effort for you to settle down in prayer.
Finally, I would extend this into phones and TV too. Turn them off for a couple of times a day. Embrace a techno-detox, seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and everything else you need will be added unto you.
This strange Covid-19 season could be a great spiritual opportunity for you and for us all.
The Lord bless you and keep you.