Wednesday, December 23, 2015
This Advent I have been convicted about the Christian discipline of meditation. This is a practice that requires more intentionality than I have been giving it. I have been tracking what thoughts I naturally "fall into" when my mind has available time and also been aware of trying to give my mind more opportunity to reflect.
Long ago, people lived in the company of their own thoughts and in the companionship of friends and family. If there was music, it was live music. If someone was sharing ideas or thoughts, it was in person, which made real dialogue possible. If someone far away wanted to communicate with another, it was through a messenger or a carefully written letter that required a level of reflection. Books required time to sit and ingest ideas or stories.
I actually live in the blessing that texting and phone calling has given when my daughter is in college and my family far away. The geographical scope of the Gospel has expanded because of radio and computer technology. I recognize the benefit of disseminating information quickly and the time savers that email and other technology provide. But these benefits have come with a grave cost--primarily to our own ability to be present in the moment.
For one, our time is not freed up, for we only expect more of ourselves and others. We have more devices to check in with. Teenagers today have to check Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, texts, and maybe email...many times a day. I don't know of a moment that teenagers have that is quiet with their own thoughts. Research shows that it is most likely that it is a new kind of addiction. People are unable NOT to check these apps and devices out of a panic that they will be left out. And yet teens are more lonely and isolated than ever before.
With the advent of Snapchat, comes the constant distancing oneself from one's own life, observing it, sending it out in bites, not living in it, being alive in the moment to what is happening, what someone is saying, what God might be saying. It is a constant, "How might this look in a photograph? How can I in this moment let others see my life?" This level of self-awareness can hardly lead to a healthy understanding of one's place in the kingdom of God, a place that requires me to shed self-consciousness and do the hidden but essential work of life.
Over time, technology has made it possible to have a virtual connection with many others who are not present, to spout off ideas that have not had time to gestate, to live with a constant input of thoughts that are never truly explored, encouraged to grow, or allowed to unfold and be challenged. We are never alone long enough with our own thoughts to have a meaningful inner dialogue that can even come under the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah says, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose imagination is stayed on you because he trusts in you." Is so much of the anxiety in our lives and the lives of our children because our imaginations are unmoored, controlled by whatever images and words we release through the touch of button? And then we have no time to pray and reflect on what we have seen and heard and ask God to align it with what he says and what is real. Are our imaginations rooted in God and do we have a disposition that trusts God?
If not, I think that some of this is the lack of time and space for meditation. Psalm 1 describes the one who is stable and blessed. This same one is not walking, standing, or sitting in the way of the wicked, the the sinners, or the mockers. I would say this paints a picture of a progression of commitment and time to what is not kingdom thought in contrast to the one who is rooted, fruitful, and prosperous like a tree. This one meditates on the law of the Lord day and night.
How is that kind of commitment to meditation possible? I would say it has to start with available mental time and space that we intentionally do not fill with technology. The music we listen to should lead us into thoughts that are good, true, beautiful, noble, commendable, pure, just, and excellent (Phil. 4:8--incidentally the instruction given right after the command not to be anxious about anything). We should have some car rides that are silent, walks that allow us just to be present to our own thoughts.
I remember many times when my parents (missionaries to Brazil) had to wait in line, a daily activity. I would ask, "Do you have anything to do? They would say, "We'll just pray." They taught me to pray through the alphabet, one letter at a time, all names in my life that I could think of that started with that letter. (This is a method I use to help me get to sleep sometimes).
Giving oneself available mental space is only the first step to meditation. This does not imply that being alone with one thoughts will not produce anxiety. Sometimes one's meditation is frought with anxiety. That is when the help of beautiful music, books, community, constant exposure to God's Word and the Church will help shape the meditation of one's heart.
Pope Paul VI said, "We know perfectly well that in order to listen to [God's] voice, a bit of calm and tranquility must reign. We must keep ourselves far from all intimidating excitement or nervousness and be ourselves."
As we come into Christmastide, consider carefully whether or not you want to give your child that iPhone. Be countercultural and stand up against the onslaught that such technology brings into the home. Give them the gift of being more able to be present to their own family, their own lives, their own thoughts, and their God. After all, God came in the flesh. We have to be looking up to see him.