How and Where Does One Find a Deserted Place?

Mark 1:29-39

In these 11 short verses in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus has a lot going on. He’s healed Simon’s mother-in-law, then before the day is over, he’s healing all sorts of people and casting out demons right and left. The next day he goes out preaching to folks and casting out even more demons. He is a busy man who has many people making many demands on his time.

But…

In verse 35 (about halfway through our passage) the Gospel lesson says Jesus got up in the morning while it was still very dark, and he went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. I’m not sure what the deserted place looked like. It can’t have been too far away from where he was staying because Simon and the gang caught up with him pretty easily.

A deserted place. By definition an abandoned place free from inhabitants. Where does one even find such a place these days—much less a place you could wake up and walk to in the morning? In our neighborhood, by 5:30 in the morning, cars are already passing with people on their way to work. Folks are out jogging and walking the dogs. Even with a three person family and a fairly large house, it’s hard to find a place that’s quiet when we’re all home, and there’s definitely not a room or closet or even a corner that looks remotely deserted. It’s hard to find a deserted spot. A silent place.

The lack of silence is not just anecdotal, it’s not hard to find statistics show that we are losing silence.

  • In 1920 a Nebraska inventor designed the first automobile alarm. In 2004 New Yorkers proposed a bill to ban car alarms as a public nuisance.
  • Between 1975 and 2010 the average number of TV sets per household rose by 87 percent (from 1.57 TV sets per household to 2.93).
  • In a 2006 Pew Research Center poll, 82 percent of respondents said they had encountered annoying cell phone chatter in public. (Amazingly, only 8 percent of the respondents felt that their cell phone habits were irritating to others.)      (Holly Pevzner, “Silence,” Real Simple, July 2011)

So not only is it hard to find a quiet, deserted place, but how many of us really take the time to seek it out? To plan that time. To craft our lives in such a way that not only allows for such a time, but demands it.

Martin Luther is known for saying that everyday, the first thing he did was pray for an hour…unless it was a really busy day, and then he prayed for two hours.

Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at M.I.T., has interviewed hundreds of people of all ages about their daily fixations on social media and new technologies like smartphones and tablets. In a recent interview with Scientific American, Turkle is worried that there’s at least one hidden cost to our addiction to technology—the loss of solitude. Turkle says:

I do some of my fieldwork at stop signs, at checkout lines at supermarkets. Give people even a second, and they’re doing something with their phone. Every bit of research says people’s capacity to be alone is disappearing. What can happen is that you lose that moment to have a daydream, or to cast an eye inward. Instead, you look to the outside.

It’s as if everything in today’s world is conspiring against any kind of silence or solitude, so it’s not just something we can wander into any more. It’s something we have to be truly intentional about. A time when all screens are turned off. When the ear buds are taken out. When we put down the book or the Nook. And find some silence and prayer time.

What would our home life, our work life, our whole lives look like if everyday, before we interacted with our families, our co-workers, the public at large…before we made contact with any of those people, we made contact with God. To give thanks for the blessing of waking to a new day. To ask for guidance as we go through our day. To pause to be present to the presence of God in our lives.

Now some of you may already practice such a discipline, but I’m willing to wager that at least a handful (or two) don’t.

Years ago, the first time I went to an acupuncturist to deal with allergy and sinus problems, the first thing she said to me in her heavy Chinese accent was, “You give up all dairy. No dairy.” When I said I didn’t think I could do that, she said, “No dairy for one week. Come back. Tell me how you feel.”

I figured I could do anything for a week, and I felt so good by the end of the week that I ended up dairy free for over five years.

So taking a page from Dr. Chen, I’m going to ask you to give it a week. Find a way. Get up five minutes earlier. Lock yourself in the bathroom with the shower running. Pretend you’re still sleeping so you won’t be disturbed. Whatever you have to do to begin your day, if not in a completely deserted space, at least in a still, quiet space and spend at least five minutes with God. If you have a really busy day ahead, you might want to go for 10. Come back next week and tell me how you feel.

If you’re still not convinced that this is something you can do or even something you absolutely should do, remember that even Jesus, who was fully human AND fully God, couldn’t keep up the demanding schedule of his life’s calling without taking time in a quiet, deserted place to connect with his creator. So what in the world makes us think that we mere mortals can pull it off?

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