“We Are Distracting Ourselves Into Spiritual Oblivion”
I’m in the midst of a very busy stretch right now, so there’s not a lot of time for original posts. This morning, however, in the midst of my busyness, I came across a few prescient quotes from Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing on the struggles we often have with paying attention to and nourishing our spiritual lives. Rolheiser identifies three main things that work against what he calls a sense of “interiority,” and all three seem to pretty much hit the nail on the head: narcissism, pragmatism, and unbridled restlessness. Here’s a bit of what I read prior to heading out into another busy (!) day:
Narcissism accounts for the our heartaches, pragmatism for our headaches, and restlessness for our insomnia. And constancy of all three together account for the fact that we are so habitually self-absorbed by heartaches, headaches, and greed for experience that we rarely find the time and space to be in touch with the deeper movements inside of and around us… .
Thomas Merton once said that the biggest spiritual problem of our time is efficiency, work, pragmatism; by the time we keep the plant running there is little time and energy for anything else. Neil Postman suggests that, as a culture, we are amusing ourselves to death, that is, distracting ourselves into a bland, witless superficiality. Henri Nouwen has written eloquently on how our greed for experience and the restlessness, hostility, and fantasy it generates, block solitude, hospitality, and prayer in our lives. They are right.
What each of these authors, and countless others, are saying is that we, for every kind of reason, good and bad, are distracting ourselves into spiritual oblivion. It is not that we have anything against God, depth, and spirit, we would like these, it is just that we are habitually too preoccupied to have any of these show up on our radar screens. We are more busy than bad, more distracted than nonspiritual, and more interested in the movie theatre, the sports stadium, and the shopping mall and the fantasy life they produce in us than we are in church. Pathological busyness, distraction, and restlessness are major blocks today within our spiritual lives.
Rolheiser wrote these words in 1999, before the advent of Facebook, Twitter, etc, and Nouwen, Merton, and Postman offered their diagnoses even earlier than that. I wonder what these fine thinkers would make of the state of affairs in 2011…