BY ASHLEY KLINE
Last month I had the pleasure and honor of hosting Dr. Ellen Davis from Duke Divinity. I have long admired Dr. Davis’ scholarship and look up to her as one of the few females in biblical studies of broad renown. The time I spent with Dr. Davis was pleasurable, enlightening and, most importantly, convicting. I was excited to hear that Dr. Davis wanted to be picked up from the house of her good friend, Wendell Berry. For those who do not know, Wendell Berry is a Kentuckian author and activist, primarily focusing upon environmental sustainability. He also speaks out regarding issues impacting those in Appalachia as he advocates for reform in the coal mining industry. Anyone who is familiar with Berry’s work knows he enjoys a simple and sustainable lifestyle in the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky. His life is based around living in the moment. Thus, he limits distractions by refusing to purchase a computer, not owning a television, and only having a landline telephone.
Despite knowing that Berry enjoys an off the grid style of living, when we went to pick up Dr. Davis my travel companion and I were shocked to see that the address for the Berry’s was not even on the map! We decided to simply put in the address to Port Royal, KY where he is based, and planned to call his wife Tanya once close. After several wrong turns, driving longer than we should have without signal and waiting for directions from Tanya, we finally made it to the Berry’s house an hour later than planned. In our frenzied state, we also tried to back down the driveway upon arrival once I remembered halfway into our ascent the instructions Tanya had given us for our own good: park at the bottom of the driveway. Their driveway was incredibly steep, causing us to veer off into a ditch while coming down. Not only did we get stuck, but also crashed into the Berry’s wooden fence! Luckily there was damage neither to the car nor the fence and Wendell was able to drive us out.
Sometime on the drive home I realized that despite how frustrating the Berry’s style of living appeared in the moment, there was something beautiful about it. As my friend and I struggled to find our way to the Berry’s and continuously lost signal, we were able to make some incredible memories we would not have gotten the chance to otherwise. This gave us space to commune with one another. Additionally, this gave us the chance to bond with Dr. Davis as we all shared many good laughs about the situation.
During her trip to Kentucky, Dr. Davis spoke in one of the seminary’s chapel services. The sermon she delivered hit a similar note regarding the beauty of a distraction free lifestyle. One of the major points of her sermon was that a distraction free lifestyle can positively impact our relationship with God. Reading Scripture is hard and making sense of it can and does take up a great deal of mental energy. Thus, “distraction is the bane of the Christian life” to use Dr. Davis’ own words. She stated that we should approach Scripture the way we approach a friend, or someone whose opinion we value. This means giving Scripture the respect it deserves by intentionally avoiding distractions, actively listening, and hopefully not putting words in its mouth or making assumptions about what it is going to say. Would you pick up your phone to text, check social media, or play a game while your friend was speaking, unless there was an emergency? If not, then we should not do so as we listen to God while searching the Scriptures.
Ultimately, these are words I felt very convicted by, particularly as an aspiring biblical scholar. When you intend to build your life around being in Scripture, it is easy to treat reading the Bible as merely a job as opposed to a conversation with God. Therefore, it is easy to let distraction seep in and continuously think, how much longer do I have until this assignment is done? However, being in Scripture is a conversation and God deserves the same respect given to anyone else.
One of my professors recently commented upon our tendency to unconsciously assume that the Israelite way of life is built upon the same foundations as our own. This is simply not so. So much of our modern culture is based around free time. In contrast, living in an agrarian society, the Israelites did not have the time for distractions to be an issue. More free time means more distractions. Even if the Israelites had access to phones, would they have the time or space to use them? Perhaps the lack of distractions enhanced the Israelites' relationship with God and their ability to hear his voice.
Dr. Davis concluded by saying that only way we can combat our propensity for distraction is to focus upon the call God has placed on our lives and strive towards whatever calling that may be.