Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Distraction (and Justin Bieber, and Facebook, and the Lord's Prayer, and...)



Just now I came upstairs to the attic to write a bit.  I dragged up my laptop, a bottle of water, my journal, six books (The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, my Bible, and Dream Work  by Mary Oliver), and a bottle of wine (let it be noted that I do not necessarily make a habit out of drinking wine and writing, but the idea of writing and sipping a little wine sounded a bit romantic, which is kind of embarrassing to admit). 

I am here.  I am blessedly alone. 

I am still distracted.

I hear Jack throwing a fit downstairs.  I think he is crying because the snow is melting, which to him is the worst thing ever.

Five minutes ago when I was mumbling my way through the Lord's Prayer while reading and praying the Midday Office, I glanced up at my computer screen and noticed on the Huffington Post an article entitled, "Justin Bieber's Worst Birthday Ever." 

I almost clicked it, right there in the middle of praying, "Lead us not into temptation...."

Do I even care about Justin Bieber?

Not a whit. 

The honest truth is that I could not name for you one song that he sings.

No lie.

I do know, however, that I am the same age as his mother.

This fact, which maybe I just Googled, might make me cry a little into my wine glass (er...jar.  I have broken all of our wine glasses.  We now drink out of glasses with names like Mason, Kerr, Ball, and Smuckers).

Why, in the middle of the Lord's Prayer, did I suddenly think I needed to read about Justin Bieber's worst birthday ever?

I fear that as a Christian, as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, as a human being, I am driven to--and perhaps addicted to--distraction.

This afternoon I posted a picture on Facebook of Amélie leading the church service that she mapped out and led at home today since we are a bit under the weather.



I am not sure how many times I have checked that picture to see how many people liked it.

As of six seconds ago there are twenty-four likes. 

Why do I need to know this?

Why does it matter?

It doesn't matter.  But it does matter, because for some reason I make it matter.

Thankfully, Thomas Merton offers me some encouragement today.  He says, "If you have never had any distractions you don't know how to pray" and that "it is useless to get upset when you cannot shake off distractions" (New Seeds of Contemplation 221). 

Whew.

However, lest I settle too comfortably in my distraction, he goes on to say, "The distractions that do harm are the ones that draw our will away from its profound and peaceful occupation with God and involve it in elaborations of projects that have been concerning us during our day's work.  We are confronted by issues that really attract and occupy our wills and there is considerable danger that our meditation will break down into a session of mental letter-writing or sermons or speeches or books or, worse still, plans to raise money or to take care of our health" (New Seeds of Contemplation 223). 

Oops.

If Merton were writing that paragraph in 2013 rather than in the early 60's, he might add "checking Facebook likes" and "mentally composing blog posts."  I would also like to add my never-ending to-do list to his litany of harmful distractions. 

To be quite honest, I am not even sure what it means to have my mind centered on "profound and peaceful occupation with God." 

What does that look like? 

I don't know, because...
My mind wanders. 
I daydream.
I gaze out the window.
I start a new book.
I hone my to-do list.
I read old journal entries.
I flip through sixteen different books.
I meander through a book of synonyms. 
I look up the age of Justin Bieber's mom.
I check Facebook.
I check my text messages. 
I unload the dishwasher. 
I worry.
I check my bank account.
I worry some more.

I.t.d.o.e.s.n.o.t.s.t.o.p.

But, I have hope:

"No matter how distracted you may be, pray by peaceful, even perhaps inarticulate, efforts to center your heart upon God, Who is present to you in spite of all that may be going through your mind.  His presence does not depend on your thoughts of Him.  He is unfailingly there; if He were not, you could not even exist.  The memory of His unfailing presence is the surest anchor for our minds and hearts in the storm of distraction and temptation by which we must be purified" (Merton, More Seeds of Contemplation, 224).

My efforts to pray can be inarticulate.
God is here, even when my mind is 20,000 leagues under the sea.
He anchors me even when my mind and heart are whipped about on the stormy seas of distraction.

Thank God.
Thank God for that, because otherwise...
Otherwise, I would be sunk.

(P.S.  I am up to 33 likes.)






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