While listening to Morning Edition on NPR on Monday morning, I heard the following during a segment on technology:

Mr. Smith: Seniors, for instance, are the fastest growing group in terms of their use of social networking sites. And we also found, in this study, that six in 10 seniors own a cell phone.

Steve Inskeep: Okay, the study says that the typical American under the age of 45 owns four gadgets – things like smart phones, mp3 players, and e-book readers like the iPad or the Kindle. Smith says these new media gadgets are continuing to change the way Americans live.

Mr. Smith: You’ve got a few minutes free, you can text your friends, you can call someone, you can play a game on your cell phone, you can listen to music on your iPod. So, you know, the times where you were just, you know, sitting at a table, you know, kind of doing nothing or just contemplating the world, I think are becoming fewer and further between as more of these technologies permeate our daily lives.

Renee Montagne: No more contemplating.

Ms. Montagne continued to speak after stating “No more contemplating,” but I found the statement so shocking, I didn’t really hear the rest of the segment. In part, the shock was caused by the recent time spent dwelling on contemplation as a necessary component of spirituality while Jaime at I were at Mission Alive’s Theology Lab in Dallas last week.

As a Christian living in a western culture, there is quite a lot to learn from Jesus’ commitment to a contemplative life. Scripture appears to indicate that Jesus’ time spent alone in prayer was not only a large component of His life, but that it was necessary to His success and enabled His incredible service and attentiveness to God’s will. I think many of us admire Jesus’ commitment to contemplation in the Gospels, but rarely give thought to the work and discipline such a life requires. We especially seem to give little regard to the connection that Jesus’ prayer life appears to have with fasting and meditative breathing. But in the land of the obese and gadget-obsessed, we have no discipline or time for such a lifestyle. And then we wonder why we are so unhappy.

It doesn’t figure to get better any time soon. I saw a 12 year old almost crash his bike the other day while trying to ride and talk on a cell phone. No joke. Soon there will arise a generation in our country who will never have known a world without the internet, Google, instant answers and social networking. As NPR noted, now even our seniors are getting in on the loss of contemplative time. While I do not believe technology to be intrinsically good or bad, it appears that in the face of increasing technology we may be facing a continuing loss of our humanity.

Tod Vogt of Mission Alive shared this excerpt of a T.S. Eliot work with us during the Theology Lab that I believe illustrates the point:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All of our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us closer to death,
But nearness to death, no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”

Eliot wrote this in 1934. Imagine what he might have written after witnessing the 21st century.

As Tod pointed out, contemplation is not everything. For without action “(contemplation) can degenerate into mere escapism,” but without contemplation action is reduced to a “frenetic attempt to impose one’s will on others or the world.” I believe there is a strong case to be made that our cultural pendulum is approaching its extreme in favor of action and that this mode of operating is unsustainable.

As entropy in our relationships and social structures progresses through continuing technological innovation, I pray God will use His church to show us back toward a contemplative life and ultimately toward Himself. For as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of the New Monastic movement writes, “Contemplation is not about a “quiet time” when we can feel safe with God. In contemplation we learn to trust God precisely because we need him.”

Wilson-Hartgrove in his chapter of Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism goes on to say, “Contemplation is the flame through which our own souls find liberation.” In the face of our greatest trials and doubts, Jonathan notes that it is the through a life of contemplation that “we can trust God. We can believe that the darkest darkness may indeed be a light so bright that it is blinding our weak eyes. We can believe that beyond death there is resurrection.” Amen.

No more contemplating? No thank you. Let’s turn off our gadgets for a while and practice being silent so God can speak into our lives. Let’s give Him an opportunity to rescue us from ourselves.

Comments
  1. Joshua Brainard says:

    Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

  2. Andrew Rule says:

    When I think if quiet contemplation, or a life of contemplation, I think of shepherds. They are indeed busy. But, something about that gives time to think about things. It might not pay much, but the benefits are great.

    I think of bringing a little something to read as the most distractive thing to have. Leave the mp3s at home.

  3. April says:

    Does anyone else do their thinking while performing mundane tasks? Silence and stillness are themselves a distraction for me. If you watch a lake in a storm you can see the whole as one solid mass. The same lake on a still day, when it’s a sheet of glass, and one single ripple distorts the image – distraction.

    Have you been to a college campus or other school lately? It’s interesting to note the differences since I’ve returned to school. The people reading text on paper stand out. Those with empty hands and vacant ears stand out. Where I remember there being many cliques, with people always seeking to bind together now I see many people isolating themselves. Technology may set us free and virtually connect us all but it also binds us in our own separate worlds. A blessing for those like me, but I can’t imagine the rest of society will come to appreciate their isolation as their social skills deteriorate with disuse. It’s sad to watch and consider the world that my kids – and yours – will grow up in.

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