Friday, February 10, 2012



This morning I gave my sophomore New Testament students the following in-class journaling assignment:

Jews at the time of Christ considered sharing a meal to be an important, even a sacred act.
- How important to you is eating together with family or loved ones?
- How often do you eat a meal with your immediate family? Is this something you would like to do more often?

My students’ responses were for the most part predictably appalling. In one class of 19 kids only one student reported eating with his family on week nights, and a couple said that they usually had Sunday dinner as a family. They tried patiently to explain that since grown-ups are boring and corny, teenagers don’t want to hang around with them. Sharing a meal with family members was a foreign concept that seemed to make almost no sense to the majority of the kids.

Several spoke about how nice it is to just come home, grab something from the fridge and go your room (read “private fully-furnished apartment with TV, computer, phone, etc.”) and close the door. You never have to talk to or even see your parents. Nice arrangement, right?

Then one student said, “You have to understand, Father Al, that we teenagers like to be alone.” Lots of heads nodded in knowing agreement.

Well, they haven’t heard the end of this topic!

If kids “like to be alone” then why do they compulsively text one another into the wee hours of the morning? Why are they addicted to Face Book and Twitter and so on? What could “alone” possibly mean in such an environment?

If I go on in this vein this post will become a disgruntled complaint – exactly the kind of thing that makes kids want to avoid us adults! So instead I’ve decided to turn inward and see if any of this has to do with my own spirituality.


“Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10)

Why do most of us have such a difficult time with silence? Why have we become so addicted to “background music” and the meaningless mumble of radio or television that serves merely as an acoustical version of wallpaper? From my own experience I suspect that we’re often afraid of silence because of what we might hear coming from the quiet depths of our hearts. Our instincts tell us that if we’re completely silent and still some serious things might start happening. We might start encountering questions that we’ve been studiously avoiding or truths about ourselves that we’d rather not know. Silence is scary stuff!

So, if he controls who talks to him by locking his door and having caller i.d. on his phone, and if he can keep the ambient noise loud enough to drown out the inner voice of the Spirit, then a teenager can supposedly escape being hassled by anyone. No probing questions or unsettling challenges. But I too have my own adult versions of that teenage isolating behavior. Or should I call it “insulating” behavior. In fact, I use it as a kind of barometer. When I find myself wanting to keep the radio on in my room constantly, I ask myself, “Okay, so what’s going on? What’s upsetting me that I don’t want to think about or deal with.”

Sitting quietly with a scripture text can be a great exercise in listening. If I can still my mind and heart enough, I may be able to hear something the Spirit is trying to say to me. Even if I have to leave some urgent work undone, some inspiring words unsaid or some uplifting insight un-blogged.

A spiritual life without silence is a contradiction in terms. So is a spiritual life that is isolated from challenges and difficulties. You can think of the countless ramifications of this for your own life, so I’ll let you turn off the radio and the computer and try it.


I noticed that the students who said that they ate with their family every night also said that it was a time when people talked to one another about what had happened during the day; and they seemed grateful for the experience. My prejudice is that these kids will grow up knowing a little bit more about themselves as persons, be more at ease speaking with people older than themselves, and have more of a sense of what it means to belong to a community.

I’m sure that spending half an hour in some virtual voluntary online “community” via a chat room can be stimulating for a teenager, but somehow it doesn’t seem as human as a real live encounter between brothers and sisters and parents over plates of real (not virtual) spaghetti and meatballs. Of course, now and then a teenager may get so upset that he needs to get up from the table and run to his room and slam the door and stare at the wall for fifteen minutes to cool off. That kind of aloneness is healthy (psychologists would call it essential). But alas, odds are that he will probably not have that valuable experience of just staring at the wall, but will instead reach immediately for his phone and start texting.

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