On Saturday I was sitting in the lobby of the YMCA while my kids were in a swimming lesson. I took one of four chairs at a small square table. To my left a small family sat talking about school, homework and whether or not the twelve-year old daughter has a boyfriend. Her blushing gave her away.
To my right was a small play area. At its fullest, six or seven kids were building skyscrapers and space stations out of blocks, putting together puzzles, reading books and even playing an odd version of “Hide & Seek” using only the wooden column between us as home base AND the thing to hide behind. They played three rounds, laughing hysterically, each round being as magical as the first.
There was what can only be called a yelling contest of “I see you!” Each of the two little girls tried to get louder than the other, thus ensuring that vision and volume are clearly interdependent. Embarrassed (unnecessarily, in my opinion), the sets of parents collected and quieted the girls. We smiled and laughed and the families left for lunch, together.
It’s the Y. There was a karate class going on above my head and there are moments that I’m uncertain the ceiling will hold. To say nothing of the choruses of “huh!” and “aii!” At least I know I’m safe.
When the phone rings, it isn’t exactly loud…and it isn’t exactly subtle, either. I hear “Roger, can you get that?” Or “Linda, line 2, please!”
The guy that was shoveling outside comes in a bit upset. Apparently somebody’s parking job leaves something to be desired and he can’t clear the whole driveway. Mental check, I parked across the street. Should be ok.
It’s busy. It’s loud. It’s fun.
So when the elderly lady strolled in looking for a seat, I glanced up as she looked at the comfy couches and chairs, which are full. She looked at the uncomfortable chairs that face the screens showing the closed-circuit pool feeds. She looked at the play area ever so briefly. And then her gaze came to me.
I motioned to one of the chairs and she said “Thank you” and sat down. Getting comfortable, she pulled out a devotional book. I could see the words “prayer” and “worship” on the cover. She began to move her finger over the words of some uplifting thought or soul-centering passage. She moved to the page closest to me and I saw the heading “Psalm 119.”
Her finger paused on the trek down the page for a moment. Her head is bowed toward the page. Reading, praying, perhaps the same thing. And then she moves on, line by line through the Psalm.
Here she is, right in the middle of life and all it’s busy-ness, stopping amidst it all for Psalm 119. Children playing, ninjas-in-training, the dating inquisition and Linda on the phone…and she may be reading:
“I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.”
There’s a lot I can learn from this stranger-saint. There’s something to be said for bringing that sacred space with you wherever you go. We had just a moment to talk before she got up to leave with her daughter and grand-daughter. We talked about Psalm 119 and she gripped my hand with surprising strength. She picked up the copy of “The Sacred Way” that I was reading. She looked at it, looked at me and said “God bless you, young man. Goodbye now.”
And just like the rest of the YMCA patrons that day, she left. It’s certainly no coincidence that she sat with me. You see, the last thing I read from “The Sacred Way”, were these words:
“…most of [my friends] have no silence and little solitude in their lives. They are awakened by a clock radio; eat breakfast to morning television; drive to school or work with music; talk most of the day to friends, schoolmates, and coworkers; listen to music on the way home; have the TV on while they prepare dinner; eat dinner with TV on; watch a movie or their favorite show; and fall asleep with music playing. Ours is a life filled with noise.” (p. 40)
There are times when we must seek out the silence, to get away from the noise. There are times that we must set aside and withdraw for the sake of our soul. There are times that we can only find His voice by escaping from all the rest.
And there are other times when we must bring the silence with us.