Jesus and Jackhammers

I live in a city that is constantly under construction.  Hundreds of people move here every week; it’s an “it” city, a place to be, and so apartment buildings are blossoming like concrete daisies in every vacant lot and half-empty field.  There is more steel than sky now, and the sun is always crossed by a construction crane.

14974946At my school, too, there is construction.  The divinity building is adding a section to the front for, well, some reason.  They haven’t really communicated it to us students, but it does mean that on a regular basis class is punctuated by drills, chains, alarms, and jackhammers.  Last week we were having a communion service in our small chapel and there was a jackhammer going through most of it and I just couldn’t countenance that.

It’s not so much that I think Jesus can’t be present when there’s construction going on—far from it.  Nor do I think the ritual of communion is impeded by noise, or that such noise is either holy or unholy.  But it was just the perfect illustration, to me, of how much distraction there is in that building and in my life.  I’m in divinity school, and I do not pay attention to God.

Not a ringing endorsement for a pastor, really.

Some of this is the school itself and my many disagreements with how it approaches theological education.  But some of it is the noise in my own head, in my heart, in the places where I still haven’t sat down and understood that I saw a lot of death this summer and I’m super distant from my best friend and I have lost a lot of things there were very important to me and I am not dealing with any of that.  My pastor told me the other day that she’s trying to teach me to think theologically and Reader, that’s what I used to be able to do here.  That’s kind of why I started this blog, to sit with you and examine the ways that God shows up in my life, to encourage you to look for the ways God shows up in yours.   Don’t get me wrong—God is still showing up in my life, to be sure.

I just don’t mark it, and I don’t much care.

The jackhammers are too loud, you see.  I can’t hear the still, small voice right now.  I can’t even hear the thundering pillar of fire, to be honest.  I can only hear the jackhammers, and alarms, and the concerns of Doing the Next Thing and there is no ministry in that, to myself or anyone else.  To leave would seem the obvious solution, to go somewhere for a few days at least where I could hear my God think, where I could hear my heart beat, where I could hear my soul breathe again.  But to leave would be to miss class, to abandon my duties at my church, to lose money while I’m not working, to leave people in the lurch, to set myself back.

It’s about the gains outweighing the losses, right?  And they don’t, yet.  I don’t know what it will take for them to do so.  But I know that I miss my weekly chats with you, Reader.  I know that I miss the grounding of this theological thinking.  And I know that I pretty desperately miss the Jesus Who calls my name, a sound drowned by the damn jackhammers.

Where do you find your silent spaces in the midst of the noise?  How do you open your ears to God?  Teach me, Reader.  I have forgotten the way.


And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind:  and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  (1 Kings 19:11-12, KJV)

6 thoughts on “Jesus and Jackhammers

  1. I have a longstanding rule that I try to follow with most people, but I have always been especially careful to follow it with you: I avoid giving advice. Each pilgrim has his or her own way they must follow, as well as baggage they must divest themselves of along the way. It’s not advice that a pilgrim needs; just encouragement.

    Years ago, when my wife and I were living in an apartment in St. Louis, I couldn’t find a decent place to pray. Our apartment wasn’t quiet, and it was too confining. I felt a need for wide open spaces, but I knew of no such place. At that time, we also had one car between the two of us.

    So I prayed about it. Granted, I didn’t feel free to “pray” in the fullest sense, but I just told God I needed a place to pray.

    That night, my wife had to go to a fabric store and asked me if I wanted to come along, even though it was going to take her about an hour or so. Having nothing else to do, I agreed, and while she looked through fabrics, I decided to explore the neighborhood around the fabric shop. One or two blocks away, I found a local park. Other than a lodge, some picnic benches, and a few swing sets, it wasn’t much of a park, but one nice feature was that there weren’t a lot of trees. It was open, and you could see the sky. And that evening, the sunset was amazing.

    There was a huge cloud structure high in the air but no clouds along the horizon, so the setting sun turned the clouds bright red. Even better, there were tiny little jet planes that kept going into and coming out of the clouds. They were just little dots in the sky, but the sun kept reflecting off of them, making them visible. They made me realize how immense the clouds actually were. It was a graphic representation of a God who (I realized) was far bigger and higher and greater than even my most extravagant imaginings.

    I had the entire park to myself. So without embarrassment, I spoke out loud to the heavens. It was the most amazing worship experience I had ever had in my life. I came away with a greater appreciation of God’s vastness. A few days later, I watched Bill Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell on PBS for the first time, and that was the beginning of my interest in the world’s myths. I have always viewed that as a turning point in my life — a time in which my horizons were flung wide open.

    My point is this: I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere in my prayer life and I worried that it wasn’t going to get any better, because I was stuck in a noisy apartment and stranded with just one car for two people. But God knew what I needed and gave it to me when I prayed for help.

    Post Script: That park became such a holy place that I used it sparingly, visiting it only when I really felt the need, because I didn’t want it to become too commonplace. But on another evening some months later, I went there in great need of intimacy with God, and that night it was completely different: there was a low-hanging cloud cover, making it seem like God was very near. Once again, I had the place to myself, but this time there was a hush over the park. I spoke in a whisper. Again, it was exactly what I needed on that occasion.

    May you, too, find what you need at this important moment in your journey.


    • I am highly amused that you’ve told me you don’t give advice many times now and yet I keep asking you for it. Oh Magister, the stories you give are advice in the best sense.

      I had a meeting with my supervisor at church today in which she called me out on not having any space for God in my life right now, indeed not even looking for God in most of my actions but functioning on my own. It was an incredibly hard meeting but very, very true and framed some of the detached-ness that I’m feeling in ways I can work with. That initial prayer of asking for space is the hard part right now, along with the space itself. I don’t know what it will take remember how to “pray for help,” but I need to do it, and soon. It’s a backwards kind of assurance to see how much I flounder without God—that apparently I’ve wrapped enough of my life around God for distance to create such a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sheila Bigelow says:

    Is it the air? The political climate? What?!? I was thinking as I got ready for church this morning that I had been missing the blog posts and was wondering if you are coming “home” for Christmas. I was thinking about Linda Dunn and that I have not seen her in forever, but thought that could be attributed to the new worship schedule. I, too, have been in that blah place, where there is too much noise and not enough energy. It has been a difficult year, filled with personal health challenges and the health issues of those near and dear. I just keep reminding myself to try to “Be still and know that I am God.” Lots of hugs to you both


    • Sorry I’ve been off my blog game, Watchful! I will indeed be home for Christmas, though I don’t yet know what that will look like.

      The political climate is most definitely not helping, but I can’t speak to the air.


  3. Linda Dunn says:

    So my two cents starts with ads for spectrum and babies are us. Last night we heard a group of musician sing about what seems a constant theme lately. We are all starved for ‘love’, peace! ,and a sense of belonging to someone. For a whole night Caleb Williams and the group gave me a gift of remembrance. I heard the voice in the music, felt the community of worship, and was wrapped in an inescapable chrysalis of love. Tody I missed time in a church that still denies full acceptance to faithful people, that is caught up in finishing the restructuring of vci, a place where I am finding little time for me. I find my small, still, voice in thought before writing an incarcerated friend, supporting a woman who has lost faith in everything and is soon to be evicted from her forever home, and waiting for George to come home with third Sunday tales of the Ministry with Community folks. It is the small stuff that matters. It is also the stuff that doesn’t start or end with ME. This is my struggle, and I believe that of the shuffling majority. We need to find our still, our small, our hearing.


    • I’m glad to hear the concert went well and sorry to have missed it. I’m sorry also to hear that church doesn’t sound like a home for you at the moment and hope that you can plug into some of the new things developing there. Say hey to George for me and tell him thanks for his continued work with MwC.


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