One can hardly help being struck by the incredible flatness and secularity of existence in our time. Technology and the good life have apparently conspired to eliminate the quality of depth from the human consciousness.
Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, said in an interview with Michael Toms that the majority of his friends are living "Waste Land lives." Many of them, he said, "just are baffled; they're wandering in the Waste Land without any sense of where the water is -- the source that makes things green" (An Open life, pp. 66-67).
This is the judgment of a man who spent his lifetime studying the religions of the world and how they nurtured people in every clime and culture. When he looked at contemporary American existence, he saw a lack of religion and nurture. He saw a Waste Land.
Most of us understand what he was saying because we look around us and see that our friends are living in the Waste Land too. They are busy but they are not getting much out of life. They are like the children in John Ruskin's story about the rainy day. Because they were confined to the house by the rain, the children invented a game: they would see how many tacks each could pry loose from the overstuffed Victorian furniture. For the balance of the afternoon they all worked feverishly, prying and gathering. Then, when the sun came out and they could all go home, they left, each with his pocketful of tacks and the furniture in a shambles!
Ruskin meant us to see that the room is the world and we are all the tack-gatherers -- and that when it is over there is very little point in having won more tacks than the next person. We have only committed sacrilege on the environment.
In such a busy, Waste-Land kind of a world, what gives true significance to our lives? Perhaps the Psalms 46:10
is still a good one: "Be still and know that I am God."
It is not easy in the cluttered, rancorous life of the city, is it? Most of our lives are so frenetic that they become centrifugal -- that is, they destroy centers. They send everything to the periphery, where it spins and spins and never seems to stop.
Stillness must be created.
There was a time when it simply existed. Stillness was.
But now, in our hectic environment, it must be created. It must exist by design.
I have always admired architects who understand this and manage in their buildings to make stillness come into being. Landscape architects do the same. A Japanese garden is one of the most exquisite creations in the world. It is always the center of the turning world, the place where time and desire stand still. A lily pond, a little brook, a dogwood tree, a simple wooden bridge -- and it breathes the clear, pure air of eternity!
There are people who make their homes into this kind of oasis of quietness, with every lamp and book placed just so, to create an effect of simple order and restfulness.
What the psalmist suggested is that we must somehow create such places of quiet in our hearts, so that, regardless of how busy the day or noisy the environment, there is depth in ourselves.