Be Present


23 Feb 2016
It started with a billboard next to a quaint Anglican church in Copenhagen, last July. I was travelling for a wedding and very much enjoying the lack of schedules on my holiday. For once, there was nowhere I had to be, nothing I had to do. This made me more receptive when I stopped to read the priest’s message. He spoke of rest and recreation as “goods” in themselves and that we didn’t have to justify taking a break on the grounds that it would make us more productive. He said that ‘on the contrary, Sabbath rest is an intrinsic and indispensible part of the divine cycle of creation and re-creation.’ The bit that really made me pause was when he said that: ‘taking time away from the incessant demands of phones, emails and social media might be one of the most counter-cultural things that people of faith can do in today’s world. The practice of “switching-off” is, when you think about it, a beautiful act of trust and witness. It testifies to the conviction that God is able to act in the world apart from our human efforts or achievements – it is not all up to us.’
Strong words to someone of Generation Y, always connected to social media, to like friends’ Facebook posts and photos, always ready to respond. I must admit the challenge presented by his words had to sit with me for six months before I was able to act on it. Finally, at the beginning of this year as part of my New Year’s resolutions, I had decided that I would delete the Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps from my phone for Lent. I have friends who have the discipline and are able to successfully switch off but I knew that personally I needed to do something more ‘permanent’ to have an effect. Lent seemed like a great opportunity and a socially acceptable one. I’m not really a rebel and could feel the “counter-cultural” nature of this choice. However, Lent is after all about giving up something on which we place importance and a reminder that we should not place that thing higher than God in our lives.
Although the Lenten season has barely commenced as I write this, I felt called to remove both applications off my phone in January, three weeks before Lent. Every now and again I have an idea and feel the gentle push of the Holy Spirit, telling me “that’s a good one, go for it.”
So how am I going, I hear you ask? Really well actually, surprisingly. As I let go, I felt a great sense of freedom. I should explain, I have not given up social media entirely. I still have an active Facebook account and interact with friends in that medium. The impact has come from removing convenience of having access to the website on my phone. Now I spent 5 to 10 minutes logged on a day. In this period, I’ve stopped filling every spare moment I’ve had checking my newsfeed and notifications. This feels like confessing to an addiction and maybe it needs to be recognised as such. Social media has amazing powers to connect us with people all around the world. It crossed language and cultural barriers. It is an effective tool for organisational purposes. But like anything, you can place too much importance on something which has the ability to take you away from God, making it a false idol which distracts you from your prayer life.
So with this new sense of freedom and resolve, I am entering the Lenten season. A priest recently said that we had lost our sense of wonder. We had become bored with our lives and from boredom, we sin. We live in an extraordinarily complex, beautiful world created by a God, who loves us beyond measure, but how often do we really see it? I’m a big fan of Michael Leunig’s cartoons and one of my favourite cartoons depicts a guy watching a beautiful landscape on tv, while the window behind him shows the same scene. We could easily substitute the tv for a mobile phone, ipad or laptop.
I think sometimes it is necessary to literally stop and smell the roses, to go for a walk and listen to the birds, to visit the farmers markets and discover what’s really in season.
My redefined mission this Lent is to rediscover my sense of wonder. I pledge to leave space in my heart for it. I am seeking to feel the joy of God’s love for me in my life. I’m hoping that it will enrich my prayer life and maybe somewhere in there, I will discover how to be present and see God.
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