From the Summer, 1996 issue of Touchstone

Is <title>Listening for the Right Frequency by Thomas S. Buchanan

Listening for the Right Frequency

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, be there any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
—Philippians 4:8

In today’s health-conscious world we often are reminded that we should watch what we eat. Almost every edible item for sale carries a label informing us of how many grams of fat and how many calories it contains. Furthermore, we are told by the most prominent of dietitians, via a press that is ravenous for such news, that we should limit our intake of cholesterol or sodium or fat or sugar and that we should eat more bran or fish oil, etc.

Although it often is difficult to tell fads from science, I think that watching our consumption is a good thing. But we should not just watch our weight, but watch our souls as well. If we eat the wrong things we may become fat and lazy, or even poisoned. The same is true for our souls if we consume the wrong things with our eyes and our ears, if we are not careful about what we look at or listen to.

Generally our consumption of such things is amazingly thoughtless. This is especially true for what we consume with our ears. Often when alone in our cars or in our homes, we will search for something to entertain us—usually a radio or a television set. If we paid attention to the lyrics of the songs or the topics of the talk shows or the dialogues of the scripts, many of us would find that often they are incongruous with the Christian life. In fact, at best they are a distraction to the spiritual realities that we face. At worst they are a toxin to the soul.

Why do we seek to be entertained when we are alone? Because we already are spiritually fat and lazy. We cannot endure silence because we do not know how to pray. Or rather, we do not desire to pray when given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, there are few of us who can fill more than a few moments with prayer before our minds wander off. For most of us, prayer is hard work. So instead of working at prayer, we often turn on the radio or search for something to listen to. But even if we are not going to pray without ceasing, we would do well to look for something with more spiritual nutrition than the aural equivalent of cheese puffs. If we are to spend time listening to something, let us make it something worthwhile. Listening to the Bible on tape, for example, can turn long commutes into times of spiritual growth.

In The Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales warned us not to become too attached to such simple forms of entertainment:

When stags have put on too much weight they scatter and hide in thickets; they know that fat slows them up so that they cannot run if pursued. So also when man’s heart is burdened with these useless, superfluous, and dangerous affections, it certainly cannot run quickly, lightly, and easily after God, the true end of the devout life.

St. Francis was keenly aware of all that might distract us from the devout life and make our souls fat and lazy. Are we? How much of our time do we spend with useless, superfluous, and dangerous affections?

“Be careful little ears what your hear” is a line from a song we often sing to our children. Perhaps we should sing it to ourselves. And we should pause to pay attention to the words!

Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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