Wednesday, January 15, 2014
A group of American psychologists performed a series of experiments. They took a class of young theological students and placed them at the end of a very long hallway of a hospital. The students were told that they were being tested on verbal retention. Each student was asked to walk into a room, listen to a passage read aloud to them, and proceed to walk to the other end of the long corridor where they were to repeat what they heard. Simple enough.
In the first experiment, they broke the subjects into two groups. To the one group they read random passages from secular literature. To the other group they read the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Bible. What the researchers didn’t tell them was that they had stationed a broken, battered-looking man (much like the accosted traveler from the parable) about halfway down the hall. What they were really studying was the effect of the parable – whether hearing the story of the Good Samaritan would increase the likelihood of these do-gooding seminarians actually stopping to help this man in need.
It did not. Only a small percentage of students stopped at all and the students hearing the parable were no more likely to stop than those who had heard a random passage. Hmm.
In the second experiment, the researchers read the Good Samaritan story to both groups, but they added one little twist. They left the seminarian subjects with one parting instruction – “Hurry.”
The result? No one stopped. Not a single student.
As inspired as they were to study theology, as bright as they were in biblical exegesis, hurry left them deaf to the clarion call of God crying out to them in the hustle and bustle of modern life. As motivated as they were to help the world in need, as passionate as they were about the Good News of Jesus, hurry left them blind to the suffering flesh of Christ lying right there before them.
“Be still and know that I am God,” the Psalmist says. We hear it, we repeat it, we recite it ad nauseam. Yet we hurry to the next appointment, the next email, another post, an extra tweet. We quickly respond to each buzz of our phone and anxiously await a reply. “We’re so busy,” we say, exhausted. Yet deep down we know that we wear it like a badge of honor, like a fine garment that tells the world how important we are.
Catherine Doherty, the Catholic contemplative and activist who hung out with the likes of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa once wrote:
Stand still, and allow the deadly restlessness of our tragic age fall away like the worn-out, dusty cloak that it is. That restlessness was once considered the magic carpet to tomorrow, but now we see it for what it really is: a running away from oneself, a turning from the journey inward that every person must undertake to meet God dwelling within the depths of their souls.
This day, this year, this very moment, for the love of God – STOP. BE STILL. OPEN YOUR EYES. PRAY. LISTEN.
You might be surprised how often God shows up.
 This story was taken from one of my favorites, a spiritual classic in its own right: Donald Nicholl, Holiness (NY: Paulist Press, 1981), 65-66.
 If there is one thing I learned from Psychology 101 it is that whatever subjects are told they’re being tested on is probably not it!
 Lk 10:29-37.
 Ps 46:10.
 Catherine Doherty, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer (Combermere, ON: Madonna House Publications, 2000), 7.