Do you know what the word Divertissement means? No, it does not refer to what to do with stock portfolios; nor does it have anything to do with intestinal problems or nasal passages. I’ll give you a clue: it’s something the vast majority of people in our culture constantly seek and consider to be necessary for their very existence. And it’s also the reason why Paul McCartney is a billionaire and why the payroll for a professional basketball team amounts to more than the Gross National Product of a small nation and why the problems of Justin Bieber get more air time on the Today Show than do the problems of hunger and poverty in our country. And oh yes, it could also be a major reason for much of the shallowness of religion today, even the decline of belief.
So what does divertissement mean? Well, it means entertainment or diversion, and as one author has pointed out, it’s what people continually seek. “As a general rule,” he writes, “people do not wish to be alone to contemplate themselves, to deprive the senses… We cannot bear darkness, silence, stillness. We crave movement, sound, activity. We do not climb the mountain because it is there but because we’re otherwise bored.
In other words, there is a restlessness at the heart of most all of us. But that is not necessarily a bad thing: indeed, in many respects it is a good thing. Without stimuli, children do not learn to speak and certain structures in the brain never develop. As we grow older, our brains go bad not so much from age as from disuse -- we need stimulation to stay mentally sharp.
The problem comes when we need non-stop stimulation, entertainment, amusement, because we don’t want to think about ourselves, our lives or even -- maybe especially -- God, the Gospel of Christ. Another author once wrote. “Busyness makes it almost impossible to form a heart.” The need for non-stop divertissement makes it almost impossible for us to be formed as Christians.
By the way, that quote about busyness was written 160 years ago. The problem is not new. But the problem has been made worse over the years by technological advances, which has led to still another author to dub our ages as the “Age of Noise.” Radios blaring, boom-boxes booming, televisions on in every room, Muzak filling malls and elevators, people blabbing on cell phones everywhere you go, ears plugged full with IPods and MP3 players, computers playing music and on and on. And then add to that the sounds of the city and suburbs. We are inundated constantly by noise, and many people want it that way. Silence can be a fearsome thing -- no divertissement, no distraction, no entertainment. It’s no wonder that athletes and entertainers are the highest paid individuals in our society: they perform the greatest service of all, which is to keep silence and boredom at bay.
Maybe this is why Lent has become more and more unpopular -- it's just not very entertaining with its call to think, pray, be silent and seek God, be still and contemplate the truth and way of Christ. And it’s very hard to make it entertaining -- let’s face it, the cross is not most people’s idea of a good time.
But the truth is, if ever we are to truly form a heart, form a faith that is a match for this world, and be formed by the Gospel and experience the hope and peace of that, then we must turn away for a time from non-stop divertissement and turn toward God and, yes, be silent, be still, and allow God enough silence and space to speak into our lives, form our hearts with hope, put within us faith enough to follow Christ. Again and again Scripture tells us it is in silence that God is found, heard, draws near -- in lonely places away from all the noise and crowds and clamoring.
And that’s just what our Mid-week Lenten services are meant to be: a chance to turn away, turn toward God, think, pray, be silent. It doesn't sound very entertaining,, I know, but it may be the one thing that could stimulate hope and faith and even a little peace down deep inside.
God be with you,