Thursday, October 29, 2015

Finding God in a World of Distraction

I ask myself what the chief obstacle to Christian renewal is, and I come back to the same issue, avoidance.  We want to avoid dealing with what matters, and so—we indulge in distractions.  And the distraction helps us to avoid doing the basics, the things that matter.  Thus our parochial, religious, and secular life becomes consumed with busy-ness, a series of distractions so engrossing that we can avoid the reality of God.

Distraction as religion can take many forms.  It can involve sitting on boards, and going to meetings (a favorite for up-and-coming clergy.)  It can take on the mask of an “evangelism”, that is really nothing more than secular marketing dressed up to look Christian, whose sole purpose is to fill pews and increase a church’s income.  It can take the guise of social activism.  It can also take the form of a “defending the faith”, that is nothing more than rabble rousing and, often secular, politics—a confession: this is one of my favorite distractions. Or, it can take the form of Church Reform, constantly changing things to make them better (usually without having seriously tried the "old ways")—this is a favorite avoidance tactic of the Puritan, both of right and left, and by far the most destructive kind of avoidance and distraction.

Furthermore, our present society is well engineered to promote such distractions. There is first the morning commute and rush.  We throw on our clothes, get the kids off to school, grab a bite  on the way or at work, drive like maniacs, listen to news that is designed to get us stirred up against “them”, attend meetings or have a constant flow of people take up our day, grab a bite at lunch, more meetings, drive a stressful commute home, pick up the kids at daycare or after school activities, grab takeout, and collapse in front of the TV or computer, until we fall asleep, then drag ourselves of to bed and start over.  Clergy and people in professional ministry are as prone to this as everybody else.  And for all of us, it is a way of living in which there is practically no time set aside for rest, for peace, for reflection—for God.

How do we escape this?  How do we make time for God?  It seems to me first of all that we need to do all in our power so as to engineer and organize our lives so as to make room for what is most important.  Anything we can do to reduce our commute, make it easier to have time for God, make it easier to get to church, and make it easier to relax is going to be worth the effort.  If we want to pray regularly, then we need to make it a priority, and make time for it: the time will not make itself.  If we want to have that encounter with God in Scripture through a prayerful reading of the Bible, then we need to make time for it.  If we want to get to mass or common prayer during the week, then we need to make it easy to do so, and make time for it.  If we want to examine our conscience before God, so that we may overcome our vices and live a life more pleasing to him, then we need to make time for it.  Churches, if we want people to have an encounter with God, then we need to make sure there is accessible sacred space for prayer and reflection, and it would help to have Bibles and prayer books easily available.  And we need to make sure our services are sacred times and provide space for that encounter.  If we need more physical exercise, and practically all of us do, then we need to make it convenient for ourselves, and make time for it.  If we want to sit down and have a family meal, then we need to make time for it.

In short, if we wish to grow closer to God, then we must make an effort, and that often includes giving up things that are of secondary importance, especially our distractions and addictions.  And if we want God, we must trust that if we put him first, he will provide all we need, not all we need to keep up with the Joneses, not all we need to satisfy our earthly appetites, perhaps not all we need to survive in this world, for none of us gets out of it alive.  But he will give us all we need to find him, and with him, what more do we need.

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