When I was a kid, I used to go to my backyard and gaze up at the stars for for what seemed like endless minutes. I was still at an age where the unknown of space thrilled me, where my imagination was filled with thoughts of what the vastness of the universe meant, and when I had time to sit still and appreciate quiet moments. To tell the truth, I think I probably still have time, if I wanted to set it aside. Instead, I’ve filled my life with so many events and people and priorities and mobile apps that I’m barely done with one task before I’m on to another. Taking the time to study the night sky is no longer a priority for me.
There are times, though, when I’m forced to sit still. It feels contrary to my nature now, and even more so when it’s in an uncomfortable situation, like waiting at a counter, sitting in a hospital room, or riding up an elevator. Oftentimes, I’ll fill that void by checking notifications on my phone. But sometimes I’ll just think through whatever comes into my mind, which tends to be time better spent. You see, my mind (and perhaps yours as well) moves toward conclusions when processing items, so long periods of quiet often lead to decisions, and those decisions may lead to action.
In the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series, there are lots of quiet scenes, and specifically, quiet scenes in elevators. It’s a device used to achieve a certain tone that Hideaki Anno wanted to set (and also to save money on the notoriously money-short production). The most famous of these scenes featured the irascible Asuka as she’s becoming more and more unstable and the robotic Rei as she’s becoming more and more human.
Asuka and Rei rarely speak to one another, but the long trip affords each an opportunity to think. The 45 seconds that passes before Rei finally opens her mouth feels like an eternity; she must have thought through what she would say before making the decision to relay her advice to Asuka. I also assume Rei understood the consequences of saying such to the fiery Asuka, but deemed that it was worthy and necessary. Silence led to thinking, and thinking to action which was meant to aid Asuka (though it seems of all the variables considered, Rei didn’t consider that her fellow pilot was menstruating).
Although I rarely make time to enjoy silence nowadays, I do try to prioritize a daily quiet time where I pray about what’s on my heart, what’s running through my mind. Skeptics will say that at best, prayer accomplishes nothing, and at worst, it prevents us from taking real action to help those in need. I disagree.
Prayer can be a risky enterprise, I have found, as the Spirit often convicts me of the very thing I am praying about. “Lord, help my neighbor, a single mother, in her hard life.” Hmm, have I offered to take her son skiing lately? “Father, I pray for Brandon and Lisa’s troubled marriage.” What am I doing to support them, keep them together, hold them accountable? The inner voice of prayer expresses itself naturally in action, just as the inner voice of my brain guides all my bodily actions.¹
As Philip Yancey notes, one thing that happens through prayer is that we are moved to not just consider a wrong, but address it. Whether we do so or not lands squarely on our shoulders, but the seed has been planted and we can no longer just pray; we either follow prayer to where it’s taking us or retreat from where the Spirit calls us to go.
I believe there is a plea for silence calling from within us. It’s not a call to be lazy, but a call to prioritize the work that happens in the silence. There is a need to shut off our iPhones and shut out the world for those precious moments when we connect with the Father. For if in a 45-second elevator ride, a teenage girl can think of something meaningful to express to a person who detests her, imagine what we can do in five minutes (or ten or fifteen) as we fellowship with the Creator of the Universe.
¹ Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey, pp. 126-127
² featured image illustrated by 蒼森.laio | reprinted with permission