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“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…

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Darlene Klassen #

    Ironically, I’ll share this on my facebook account 🙂

    September 21, 2011
  2. Ernie #

    I have colleagues who take their blackberry AND laptop on holidays and cruises (!?!?!) and wonder why their wives don’t appreciate it.
    One sent one last email…in the hospital on the way to surgery that morning.
    Another complaint I hear, is how their banked up holidays are piling up. Officially the company urges us to take our holidays but in reality they don’t really want us to be gone.
    It all comes down to protecting ourselves from the that contagious ride

    September 21, 2011
  3. EDH #

    Yup. I like the way Kenneth Korby diagnosed the problem: “The reason why we are so neurotic is that we worship work, we work at play and we play at worship.”

    September 22, 2011
  4. Ryan,
    Thank you for posting this. On Wednesday one of the pastors at our church started a discussion on the importance of the Sabbath. Part of that discussion centered on these same themes. It is amazing how quickly that delicate, yet deep yearning for Christ can quickly be covered up and forgotten by all the attractions of our time. Thank you for posting the quote. It is a great reminder to find time for reflection and quiet before God.

    September 23, 2011
    • Yes, I think that a recovery of Sabbath-keeping—both understanding it and practicing it—is a crucial way in which we can steer away from the “spiritual oblivion” toward which we are headed.

      Thanks, Colin. I wish you and your church well as you cultivate that delicate, deep yearning for Christ amidst the distractions.

      September 23, 2011
  5. Perhaps the “free form” style of Christian worship has run it’s course. While postmodern thought and action obvously works for those who would subscribe to its theories, subjective social constructs entirely amenable to change are often contradictory to the purpose of living out the objective truths held by the theist. There is certainly a magisterial effort within the Catholic faith to re-examine and return to traditional forms of worship and spiritual disciplines.

    Perhaps the only antidote to secular busyiness will be a commitment to a set of disciplines that foster a daily encounter with our Lord. Our Muslim brothers and sisters live in the same world as we do but have maintained faithful prayer and fasting practices within their regimen. Spiritual exercises will enhances spiritual fitness. We are not that busy that most of us can’t address that which we prioritize. The question is, what do we prioritize?

    it is reasonable to assert that those interests which we give little, if any, priority could be described as lukewarm. I think there is a passage somewhere describing how that’s gonna work out for us.

    September 23, 2011
    • Spiritual exercises will enhances spiritual fitness. We are not that busy that most of us can’t address that which we prioritize. The question is, what do we prioritize?

      Amen.

      September 23, 2011

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