We hear it at the entrance to the train station. On the street corner. In the shopping centre. On our doorstep.
They know we’re busy, so they’ll be quick! They launch in.
Whose your broadband provider? Your electricity provider? Do you like cats? Do you know anyone who has had a heart attack? Did you know…?
I heard it today as I walked through Belfast on my way to see my Spiritual Director. It was accompanied with an exuberant bounce, a hand waved in my face, “Hello Miss! Quick Question!”. I smiled, shook my head, walked on.
I wonder about this Quick Question Strategy – this belief that if they promise us speed then we will make decisions about service providers and charities, that we will set up direct-debits standing beside lampposts. I wonder about this notion that we can meet their quick questions with quick decisions.
I don’t think or decide or budget or tithe like that. I smile, I walk on.
There are Jehovah Witnesses near the bus-stop. They stand in their place, unobtrusively. They hold their pamphlets out in this open, gentle kind of manner that I like. I see them every month on my way to meet with my Spiritual Director – same spot, same body language. Quietly, but persistently, holding out what they have to offer.
There are a group of men singing in front of the City Hall – modern, lively worship songs. People are craning their necks to look at them. When my bus comes and drives past the men, I crane my neck myself. They are dancing and clapping and bouncing up and down.
On the bus there is a Bible verse, a framed King James snippet, contact details if I want to find out more.
It took me over 6 months to find someone I could meet with for Spiritual Direction. We schedule appointments. I organise childcare. I get on buses. We meet in a room, down a corridor, with the door shut.
My soul does not like quick questions, it does not like street corners. To be honest, it doesn’t really like exuberant enthusiasm and it doesn’t like pamphlets, however gently they are offered. It likes a safe space with the door closed and a candle lit. It likes gentle questions, it likes time to answer.
On the bus I smile at the irony of it all – all these people I walk past, all these words I bypass – on my way to a place that is quiet enough for God to speak. I don’t dislike the certainty of the singers or the pamphlet holders or the verse providers. I am looking for some certainty myself, yet I am finding it in a place where there is room to say I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
I am finding what Parker Palmer says to be true, ‘The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions.’
And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great 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.
The soul is shy, Parker Palmer says, it’s like a wild animal. ‘If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.’
I feel yelled at, in our culture, even from sincere sources. I feel hurried, hustled, my attention fractured. I see your offering and I cannot receive it.
In a room, down a corridor, that takes some effort to get to, I am learning to receive.
I am seeking God and someone is seeking God with me, and for me.
I choose this ancient, slow practice. I listen for the still small voice. Away from the lively activity, from the quick questions and the persistent pamphlets, I am paying attention here – to what surfaces in the quiet, to a God who is already at work.