Tom Wolfe is a best-selling American author. As a young man he worked for a newspaper. Then he wrote ten non-fiction books. He then wrote four novels, all which were very successful and made him famous. He has also written hundreds of essays and articles. He is now well into his 80’s and most would consider his life one of great accomplishment.
But Tom Wolfe is not impressed with himself. He thinks he could have done better. He said he was not as focused on his work as he could have been. Rather, he says, he has allowed himself far too many distractions. What has been the cause of these distractions? He blames much of it on the many conveniences of modern life that are supposed to save time and labor, but he doubts if they do that. Cars do get us from point A to point B faster, but now we are on the go more, and much of our life is wasted, he would say, behind the wheel. Think of the millions of hours spent in traffic every morning and evening rush hour. The telephone makes communication so much quicker, but it can also interrupt one’s life and work with endless drivel– think telemarketing and political calls and surveys. Computers speed things up a bit, but studies show astounding amounts of work time spent on computer games, social networking, and surfing the internet. This is not to even mention the television, which could have been so useful in making education more efficient, but without a doubt has had a profoundly negative impact on the whole learning process. He says we diddle around here and there with all these time and labor saving devices, and then at the end of the week we wonder where all our time went. Tom Wolfe exaggerates and overstates his case, but you get the idea. I am not about to get rid of my car, telephone, television and computer, but he has a point.
To further explain why he is not impressed with his own literary output, Tom Wolfe refers to a French writer, Honore de Balzac (1799-1850). Wolfe writes, “In light of my own meager output after 55 years of writing, I have become interested in this French writer Balzac, who published 60 books between the ages of 30 and 51. I am convinced,” Wolfe goes on, “that the reason this genius was so productive was that he had NO time or labor saving devices whatsoever, not even a typewriter. And so he dropped nothing and went nowhere to see anyone on a moment’s notice. He did not stop to call anyone in Paris or London, and the phone never interrupted him. He either wrote a note by hand, or said ‘the heck with it,’ and kept working.”
The endless opportunities we have these days to do so many different things so quickly, has become also the means for endless distraction and diversion. Of course, we need to do something with all that extra time that we save, and watching TV or surfing the net is more appealing than cutting and hauling the wood to heat the house, or pumping and carrying every bit of water that we need. But does anyone think that our lives are more relaxed and calm today than 100 years ago when people did have to do everything by hand?
None of this is new to you, but I want to point a few things this means for our spiritual life. The Bible says that we need faith and Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing. And in order to hear anything, we have to take the time to listen. In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” Christians are big on the hearing of God’s Word. That is how we find out about God– about what God has done for us, about what God will do for us, and about what God expects of us. In Jeremiah 23:16 God tells the people who they should be listening to. “Don’t listen,” God says, “to the false prophets who are filling you with false hopes.” But, he implies, that is indeed who everyone is listening to. “Who,” Jeremiah asks, “listens and hears the word of the Lord anymore?”
“My sheep,” Jesus said, “ listen to my voice, and they follow me.” The challenge to anyone who wants to follow Jesus today is that there are so many other competing voices. We are nearing the end of another political campaign, with all sorts of competing voices, competing with each other and competing for our attention, while crowding out other important matters. And politics is just one of many distractions. There is all the other news, along with sports, and entertainment, to name a few things; along with the necessary voices concerning job and career; and also all the opportunities for pursuing personal interests, be it history, reading, travel, cooking, decorating, and so forth; with magazines and television channels and books and websites and experts in every area, all there for you to listen to and learn from. And, we must listen for and keep up with all the information about health care options and insurance, financial management and investments; and of course, hearing from and keeping in touch with family and friends, in person, on the phone, by letter or by email. There are a lot of voices out there competing for our attention.
Therefore, it becomes difficult to sit still for even a 15 minute sermon without the mind wandering about, thinking about all the many other things going on in life; much less, sitting still for 10 minutes of personal devotional time each day. And yet, where else can the Lord God Almighty get a word in edgewise? As Jeremiah says, “Who has listened and heard God’s Word?” (continued…)
Romans 10:17 — Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
John 10:27-28 — (Jesus said), “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Jeremiah 23:16…18 — This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord… Which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?”
O God of Peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, that in quiet and confidence shall be our strength; by the might of Thy Spirit lift us, we pray, to Thy presence, where we may be still and know that Thou art God; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer