God in my Headphones
In a world full of noise, demands, stress and anxiety it is helpful to carve out moments in our daily routines where we can slow down and meet with God. Jules Badger shares with readers the apps that create an oasis in the desert of her busyness.
Have you ever sat quietly in a café surrounded by the distinct but comforting white noise of people chatting and the delicious aroma of coffee being brewed? I love that ‘café life’ soundtrack. It’s right up there with another of my favourites, ‘kids playing at the park while a gentle breeze rustles the leaves of surrounding trees’ … so good!
Perhaps you didn’t know that you can download specially curated playlists which are designed to enhance concentration as you study or work. Right now, I am writing this article with Spotify’s ‘Café Ambience’ playlist drifting through my noise-cancelling headphones. I work in an open-plan office space making noise-cancelling headphones and ambient playlists a life-changing, creativity enhancing, absolute Godsend in such an environment. Okay, so they are pricey, but now that I have been to the promised land (it’s very quiet there), I can testify that they are worth every cent. I wouldn’t be without mine—especially on the bus in the mornings.
This morning, I spent 40 minutes travelling into Cuba Street, Wellington, from my home on the hill up in Grenada Village. Bus travel has changed categorically since I was a daily bus user back in high school. It was raucous most of the time, but I had the ground-breaking technology of a Sony Walkman! But as I think back to those flimsy little headphones with the bit of orange fluff around the tiny speakers and the volume at which I had to listen to Smashing Pumpkins to drown out the encroaching din around me, noise-cancelling headphones would’ve been wonderful!
In stark contrast, this morning I was able to sit and gaze out the window of the bus in my own bubble of quiet serenity, as the contemplative app Pray As You Go took me through a guided reflection from the Gospel of Mark. It’s like a silent but brief retreat for one, as I listen for the still small voice of God. God is in my headphones! And why wouldn’t our omnipresent God be in our headphones, God is everywhere and more than capable of inhabiting digital mediums.
An appropriate app
There was a time when I was quite judgmental of the copious amount of people around me wearing headphones or ear buds. People meandering the street, runners, skaters, people at the gym and even the library (where it is already quiet). I assumed people were filling their heads with more noise, intentionally drowning out the roar of the world while simultaneously damaging their hearing, not to mention cancelling out even the possibility of hearing the still small voice of God. But it seems more likely that I was, to a large degree, wrong.
In our fast-paced and often relentlessly loud modern world where busyness is worn like a badge of honour and ‘I just don’t have time’ is the daily mantra for many, it’s no surprise that in the past decade meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm have become extremely popular for managing stress and supporting sleep. But in Aaron Lambert’s article ‘Faith, Prayer and Contemplation—There’s an App for That’ he writes, ‘For those who take their prayer life seriously and like the meditative exercises of Headspace but desire something more in line with Christian spirituality, then (an app) is the answer to your prayer (no pun intended). While smartphones are an integral yet often unnecessary part of our daily lives, they do have some redeeming qualities. One, as counterintuitive as it may seem, is that they are always on our person, and another is that they there is a wealth of apps that can be useful for our own personal and spiritual formation.’
There has been an almost tsunami-like surge in the development of prayer and Bible apps in recent years (I’ve included a small sample below). Writers of a UK study called ‘From Ancient Contemplative Practice to the App Store’ suggest that ‘Digital technology has great potential to bring mindfulness to a wider audience for whom the practice would otherwise be inaccessible’. The study revealed that of the 370 mindfulness-type apps available on Google Play, meditation, relaxation and sleep support took out the top spots, with prayer apps coming in 11th and making up 5 percent. Which is not bad at all given Christian mediation and contemplative practices were far from ‘mainstream’ in the evangelical church in the 20th century. But the 21st century Christian has different needs. As the world gets louder, the pull toward ancient traditions is becoming stronger.
Jesus himself was contemplative and regularly sought out a quiet place alone to pray. We may struggle to find a quiet place in 2024, but God is in your headphones—just an app away!
Some of the ‘Apps for That’
Lectio 365 (24/7 Prayer Movement)
With the Lectio 365 app you pray the Bible by meditating on the Scriptures and asking God to speak through them. The app has short devotionals for morning and evening so you can open and close each day with God. When you pause in his presence, you create space for peace in a busy and complicated world.
Tuia (Anglican Church of NZ)
Tuia was designed with Christians from Aotearoa and the Pacific in mind. It’s an Anglican app, described as ‘bringing our prayers alive and into the public arena for all generations’. The main features of Tuia are brought together in Daily Devotions, which weaves together Bible readings, your personal prayer list, shared prayers and more. The text of Daily Devotions is in Māori, Samoan and English.
Reflect (Christian Mindfulness)
This app contains reflections and meditations based on the Christian principles of biblical meditation and contemplative prayer. Each reflection is a guided audio describing a particular practice to follow. The sections of the app are: bible reflections—meditations on a passage from the Bible; imaginative contemplation—place yourself in a scene from the Bible; meditation basics—an introduction to mindfulness practices; reflective prayer, guided prayer and more.