Jul 20 2011

Time to Unplug?

Yesterday I came across an interesting article on the Sojourner’s website (www.sojo.net) by Jim Rice called “Are Books a Thing of the Past?” In the article Rice quotes David Ulin, author of The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, as saying that he “became aware, in an apartment full of books, that I could no longer find within myself the quiet necessary to read.” Ulin wrote that he would sit down with a book, and find his mind wandering, enticing him to check his email, or Twitter, or Facebook. “What I’m struggling with,” he writes, “is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there’s something out there that merits my attention.” Rice goes on to say, “The implications of this ‘encroachment of the buzz’ for the spiritual life are obvious. If it’s difficult to achieve the ‘mental silence except for the words’ to read a book, it’s every bit as hard, or more so, to find the mental space for contemplative prayer. Such prayer requires not only a physical environment that allows us to quiet ourselves and put ourselves in the presence of God. We also need the inner space, the quiet within, as we center ourselves in contemplation.”

A few hours after reading this article, I sat down to wade through Brian McLaren’s latest book, Naked Spirituality. In one of the chapters I read McLaren made some similar observations to those found in Rice’s article. He said “sometimes we need to unplug from the thousand distractions and demands that keep us not-here in fantasy or render us only half here in anxiety. To awaken to nonvirtual reality, we may need to unplug from the video-game or website. To resituate ourselves in the down-to-earth presence of God, we may need to unplug from our heady isms, whether economic, political, or even theological.” McLaren then says something that I suspect many of us need to hear. He says, “So withdrawal to a place less fraught with distraction and more hospitable to awakening makes sense. But the purpose of practicing a retreat to a thin-place there is so that eventually we can practice awakening here, wherever that may be. When we practice awakening to the here-ness of God in solitude or out in nature, we gradually learn to stay awake to God’s here-ness in the midst of the crowds, the noise, and the rush and crush that threaten to derange us.”

I have written numerous times about the importance of personally experiencing the beauty and wonders of God’s Creation. I have noted how doing so can bring us peace, refreshment, and perhaps even healing. McLaren, however, makes the needed point that those times we intimately experience God in nature should also make a difference in us when we are not in a beautiful or awe-inspiring natural setting. Those quiet moments with God in nature should help sustain us in our not-so-quiet moments and also help us to remember that because God is the Creator of everything He may be experienced everywhere. In other words, seeing God in Creation (in nature) should help us see Him in all the places we find ourselves.

Putting yesterday’s two readings together I realize anew the need to unplug and get outside more. It’s something we all need to do. After reading Rice’s article yesterday I sent it to Rob. In his response to me Rob said “Stuff like Facebook, e-mail, Twitter are part of increased ‘noise’ in our environment, but we still have the choice to say no. No one is forcing anyone to constantly stay connected.” Rob also said that today’s technology is not really to blame; the real blame lies with us, in “our own choice on how we focus and take time to relax.“ Rob, of course, is right. The choice is ours. We can buy into the temptation to stay “plugged in” all the time and suffer the consequences or we can “unplug” from time to time and reap the benefits. When it is put that way, the solution sounds rather simple, doesn’t it?

(I took the top image at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains N.P. I photographed the middle image of Elowah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. I took the bottom image near Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley N.P. All three locations are great places to “unplug.”)