What I Learned About God From a Radio Experiment

Like a radio signal, God’s loving presence is always there, but we are not aware of it if we are not tuned in.

As a high-school physics teacher, I was embarrassed to say that I had never built a simple radio from the few parts that are necessary. So I was happy to work with a student after he finished the AP test to attempt a working radio. We pieced together the parts from what we had in my physics lab, and my student even made one of the parts simply by wrapping wire around a cardboard paper-towel tube. In the end, we only had three small parts, a pair of headphones, some wire and a large metal stake. We drove the stake into the ground as a ground wire, we threw some wire over the branch of a tree as an antenna, and we put the headphones on. There was no battery or other power source. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did when we finally heard a radio station. My student and I traded the headphones back and forth in amazement as we listened to a local radio station.

As I reflect on it now, that radio serves as a metaphor for the spiritual life. The simple fact is that the radio waves had been there all the time and are still there. We just could not pick up on them until we had the right set of equipment tuned to the right frequency. God’s loving presence is always there, closer to us than we are to ourselves, but we are not aware of it if we are not oriented the right way.

What actually happens with the radio waves and the radio is a phenomenon called resonance — the same thing that happens when I push one of my children on a swing. The swing has a natural cycle, and if I push in conformity with that particular cyclical rhythm, my pushes will resonate in the swing and the swing will go higher and higher. If I push with the wrong frequency or at random, the swing will not go any higher, and I am likely to be screamed at by the frustrated child. (As a father of seven and one on the way, I speak from experience.)

Radio waves are electromagnetic waves, and so it takes electromagnetic equipment to pick up on them. Once those pieces of the radio are tuned to the timing cycle of the station, the waves from that station will resonate in the radio so powerfully that we can hear them with no other power source. But unless we have the right parts arranged in the right way, we will never even be aware of the presence of those waves and the messages coming through on them. In the case of many radio stations, that is probably for the best.

In the spiritual life, we choose what we tune in to, and thus what we turn into. We will only pick up on the radio waves of God if we tune into Him, if we align our interior selves to be aware of his majesty and presence. We were made for this. We were made to resonate with the love that wrought the cosmos, broadcast the joy of the Gospel, vibrate with the music of Heaven, become one with the Word, derive our power from invisible sources, act as instruments of a single fountainhead, share in common a united message, and grow in clarity and strength. It takes time and effort, and all the pieces are in place only as a divine gift given freely. We all have what we need, but we are also given the gift of free will.

Many tune in to the wrong spiritual stations or have done their best to turn off the internal receiving mechanisms. No one can turn it off completely, though, and even those who tune in elsewhere are still using a gift meant for God. We are spiritual beings, and a complete eradication of spirituality from our nature would mean the destruction of the person.

So how do we tune in to God? By loving Him. St. Augustine wrote that we call upon whatever we love. We were made to resonate with the love of God. All other frequencies, when we try to resonate with them, will bend us out of shape as we try to love those things which we were not made to love. Nothing in life is more important than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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