Dancing Little Screens

I’m the only one looking around, seeing trees swaying in the wind, and the play of shadows over rough bark; the way the light streams through twisting leaves.  Even the children, even the littlest ones, their faces still and passive, their squirming ceased, their eyes riveted by the dancing little screens, they miss the squirrel racing around the trunk and chattering.

Their parents stare hard and scroll, scroll, scroll, their thumbs stroking the glass of their miniature portals into otherness; other peoples’ beach photos, rapid-fire recipe videos, artful platings of food, and memes unending.  Now and then they’ll look up, around, at their child, and then, as though there were an invisible elastic from their neck to their wrist, they bend to it, raising their phone-clutching hand, and they leave again.

Grocery lines, stoplights, carpool pick-up lanes, waiting rooms, restaurants; they are no longer experienced anymore…they are only escape spaces to distraction, to otherness.

I love elderly people.  You still see their eyes; their eyes greet you, see you; there is a sense that they’d gladly connect and share life for a moment.  They remember the times before people carried all-engulfing entertainment in their pockets and used them at every opportunity.  They remember courtesy, conversation, presence.

I am alarmed.

Ever-reaching for phones, ever-scrolling, compulsive behavior that is becoming “normal”.  I’ve experienced it myself.  I don’t have a phone, and hopefully never will, but my husband’s smart phone is terribly tempting to reach for on the long drive to church.  I don’t even know what compels me to “check it”; what on earth am I longing for; why not let the passing landscape form my thoughts, rather than absorbing the experiences of others?

In my home my laptop is a severe temptation; always promising a moment’s escape from domestic cares and hollering toddlers.  But again, I have to ask, what am I longing for?  Do I ever feel any sort of fulfillment from “checking in” and “catching up”?  No.  Rather I feel the weight of wasted time and attention.  My childrens’ behavior also changes when I tune out; they are more irritable and uncharitable with each other.  They ignore my words, sensing that I’m not really “there” anyways.  Presence is necessary.  Not just at home but out and about in the world.

I will endeavor to change; to allot a time for online reading and interaction, writing, answering of emails, and ordering supplies for my business.  Lord, help me!  I don’t want to be absorbed by a screen, nor feel myself pulled towards it.  I am mindful of the little eyes that watch how I live; do I need a screen or use a screen?

Please, dear ones, consider.  Leave the phone in your car, don’t let your kids play with one whenever they’re bored or fidgety (it’ll prevent them from growing in imagination and creativity and being present), and don’t teach them that zombie-like staring at screens is how to live.shortstory8

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Not Unsinkable

Titanic“I thought her unsinkable, and I based my opinion on the best expert advice available. I do not understand it.”

-Philip A. S. Franklin, vice president of the International Mercantile Marine Company

I shied away from the dream that lingered on the fringe of consciousness.  In it the news had come out that two bodies had been found deteriorating in a major aquifer.  For some reason I was among the first to know that both bodies were infected with the Ebola virus and that the water for many cities was now contaminated and being consumed by millions.  It was the beginning of the end of life in the United States as we knew it.

I called a friend of mine that same day, Monday, and told her my disturbing dream.  We agreed that we hoped it wasn’t prophetic.  Tuesday morning, with coffee in hand, I sat down to read the news.  “Ebola Confirmed in U.S.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here.”

-Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Now, I’m not spending my day today painting a sandwich board with “The End Is Upon Us!” emblazoned across the front.  I don’t feel afraid.  But I feel aware, very aware of the fact that the CDC’s confident bravado is an unwise posture.  It feels like a big brother puffing out his chest, being the strong man of the hour, and attempting to quell the fears of his younger siblings with his cocksure confidence and swagger.

The Titanic was a pretty amazing ship; it had all the latest technologies.  Our hospitals are pretty amazing too; staffed by well-trained, competent staff.  But there are still icebergs.  There are still errors, which we’ve clearly seen in the communication break-down which led to the patient infected with Ebola to be sent home for two days with antibiotics when a staff member was made aware that he’d been in Liberia.

Pride makes us more vulnerable.  Pride says, “Not here!  Not on my watch!  That happens, over there, in those less-educated, more superstitious cultures where people act in ignorance.”  Oh, America, when will you learn that pride weakens us?  That humility and vigilance are the correct responses; that puffing our chests out just makes us full of hot air?

We are not unsinkable.  Let us pray that God would have mercy on us and forgive our arrogance.

 

 

 

Kim Who?

I’m like an old person shoved inside a 34 year-old’s body.  Actually, no, I’m sort of like an eighteenth century person.  Yeah, it’s that bad.  I type here on a laptop, but I’d rather write by typewriter.  Or on some beautiful paper, with a goose quill pen.  By candlelight.  Ahhhh.

“What time is it?”, demanded an elderly lady of me as I sat in a waiting room.  “Um, I don’t know,” I said, glancing at my wrist as if to prove that, indeed, I really didn’t have a watch.  I could see she was waiting for me to whip out a cell phone or some other IGadget to give her the information she wanted.  I scanned the walls for a clock.  She continued to bore through my skull with her stare.  “Uh, I’ll go ask the receptionist.”

I’ve been laughed at when I’ve asked a clerk where the nearest pay phone was.  She just handed me her cell phone the way I would hand a tissue to someone who had sneezed into their hands.  Like, here, let me rescue you from your unfortunate lack of foresight.  You poor thing, don’t leave home without it next time!

We don’t have a television either; haven’t for nigh fifteen years (except a TV in Chile which didn’t get any channels and was used for watching movies).  So when I read the news, the headlines that I guess are supposed to grab me with intrigue merely leave me saying, “Kardashian?  Is that a name or a type of wool?”  All that I’ve gathered about her is that apparently she is famous and everyone wants to know more about her.  Does she sing?  Is she a celebrated writer?  Is there a reason she’s famous?

So, I’m halfway through Twelve Steps to Becoming a Hermit I guess.  Especially when I went off the Facebook grid.  If you someday find this blog deleted or stagnating, you’ll know I graduated and can be found meditating on top of a pole.  Please bring me food, I’ll probably be hungry.

time2 I love this picture.  Simplicity.  Utility.  Craftsmanship.  Peace.  Beauty.  Handmade things in handmade places, natural light, and quiet.

I can’t handle TV.  The jarring, jazzy nature of it.  News of a brutal murder followed by a peppy, and incongruously sexy, ad for laundry detergent.  What?  And all this celebrity gossip; was it somehow forgotten that these are flesh and blood people like us?  That they have feelings and sorrows and souls?  The “newspeople” picking them apart remind me of carrion birds; their laughter grates.  How does this entertain?  Is this the new coliseum?  I remember years back when friends of ours showed us an episode of American Idol, where some poor soul sang off-tune and were, predictably, chewed-up and spit-out by the sneering judges.  I felt sick.

I have no stomach for the killing of souls, sneer by sneer.

So, yeah, I might be a little backwards, but forwards isn’t looking all that great.

 

From The Silent Place

silenceIt may seem strange to speak of silence when one is a mother of four precious jibber-jabbering children, all under the age of eleven, in anything other than a sighing-longing way.  Amazingly, I am immersed in it (when Henrik deigns to nap, that is).

Since closing down my Facebook a while back, the reams and reams of information, quips, photos, and humorous bits which I plowed through each day have disappeared.  In their wake, silence.  I didn’t know how anyone was doing, or what they were doing, and no one knew my news either, unless I called, emailed, or got together with them.

My habits have been startled; before, when I’d read a particularly striking quote or passage in a book, I’d earmark it for sharing on Facebook.  I wanted to share the nugget I found and hear others’ feedback on it.  Now I read that line and am struck and I look up from the page.  I still want to share it, I still want to discuss it, so I memorize it.  I swallow it in and make it part of me, so that I can, by word spoken, share it.  I am chewing on words, rather than handing them off right away.

Also, “checking the computer” takes all of five minutes.  Reading and responding to the few emails that trickle in and catching up on the major news stories…and…..done. I close the laptop and look around.  There’s nothing more to see here, people, move along.

silence1  In the meantime, in this wider silence, I find myself quieting too.  Almost like that feeling when you step into a lofty empty cathedral and the quiet urges a stilling of the tongue, urges a listening and an awe.

What is God teaching me in this valley, this quiet, dark, valley?  I don’t know, but I beg Him in whispers for wisdom, humility, selflessness, and mercy.  For Him to burn out the weeds in my heart and plant life-giving things.  For all the soul-killing sins to be yanked into the spotlight and named that I might reject them full in the face, with no turning aside.  That sort of stuff.

And in this time, Baby grows in the deep, nearly the size of a kumquat, but with a soul as large as any, in the secret place.  And I pray to be a wiser, more humble, more gentle mama today, tomorrow, and when I meet this wee one face-to-face, smiling.

Wisdom, Humility, and Facebook

It is not to my credit that I seem utterly incapable of making minor changes, but only large and drastic ones.  If I am told to favor my right foot, you shall soon find me hopping on my left foot.  If I am found to be absorbed in television, I will not own one for fifteen years.  Cold turkey is my modus operandi.  Maybe it is because I distrust myself exceedingly; afraid I may persuade myself soothingly back into bad habits and sins one reasonable excuse at a time.

My husband laughed at me yesterday.  I had asked him to “pass me my book, please”.  He laughed, “Which one?”  I had to laugh too.  Within my sight at present are nine books of all sorts of genres and depth, and I am reading them all concurrently.  It is my version of flipping channels I suppose.  Anyways, this morning I’d chosen “Water From A Deep Well-Christian Spirituality From Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries” by Gerald Sittser.  I read the following in a chapter relating to how the early monastics viewed struggle:

“The self always dies hard,” Martin Luther once said.  It dies hard because it resists giving up habits of mind and body that satisfy immediate desires but in the long run destroy the life of the soul.  However much it resists, the self must still die.  It will die as we struggle against the world, the flesh, the devil, and the darkness within.  We must submit to this struggle when it is imposed on us through difficult circumstances; we must choose to struggle when God calls us to discipline our appetites, resist temptations that threaten to undermine the good work he wants to do in us, and confess our egoism.

Immediately to my mind came the distractive nature of my use of Facebook, and more than that, how it “satisfies immediate desires” with joyful little red notifications, and successive “likes” to propel my ego through the day.  Note here, I am not vilifying social media, nor Facebook itself, only my own sin in seeking from it what I should have only sought in the Father, approbation.  Worth.

I reread that passage a number of times.  I wondered how it would change me if only God knew what I was up to throughout my day; to live as I’ve heard it said, “as for an audience of One”.  A spark of joy was lit within, which is a rather big deal in my current valley of darkness.  Would that focus aid me in deeper study, more attentive prayer, and more present presence?  I promptly deactivated my account.  Why I did not delete it entirely is because, again, I distrust myself exceedingly.  I cannot claim to know now what level the Father will allow or lead me in the future to interact via Facebook.  I only know that for now I’m called away.

It feels quite counterintuitive.  To be walking on a darkened road with a helpful and cheering friend, only to be told, “excuse your companion who has been helpful to you”.  The only way this would make sense is if God Himself wished to have me more to Himself.  Okay then.

Two virtues have been held before me as twin desires of my heart:  wisdom and humility.  They are often hard to hold within the same person.  Humility is such a flighty virtue, and, as I’ve heard it said, “once you think you’ve attained it, you’ve lost it”.  I wish to grow in both of these, and where can I go for them but to the Father?  Please pray for me; I do sincerely wish to grow, to become like Christ, to die to self, and to find all my joy in the Father’s love.

How Would You Respond?

The young family was eating their meal at a nicer restaurant; looked like two teens and a tween, a mom and a dad.

A quirky type drew near their table with a vintage Polaroid camera and explained that she was doing a project on families out to eat in Lancaster.  Could she take their photo?  Sure, they said, and put their arms around each other’s shoulders, moving in close and beaming their smiles at the photographer.

“Oh, no no, please just separate and look down at your phones like you were.  I want what you actually do when out to eat together.”

*awkward silence*

How would you respond?

Because my blood boils when I see this, all this self-absorbed, mindless behavior, this rudeness, this wasting of precious time around a table with loved ones.  I am one slip of self-control away from blurting out to total strangers with an exaggerated tone of wonder, “LOOOOK!  There’s a REAL LIVE PERSON right across from you!!!  Imagine that!” and then preceding to spike their phone like a football in the end zone.

Zeal much?

Nouwen, Candles, and Presence, Oh MY!

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“We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.

Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, ‘This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!'”      

-Henri Nouwen

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The really busy mama had told me with a mix of shame and defeat that she only got one meal out of a week of days with her children anymore, sitting down together around a table.  They all had these activities, these schedules, these demands upon their presence.

What I’m not going to do is get up on my soap box about busyness, not right now.  I’d rather submit a few thoughts about the times when we can be around a table together, scooping up and doling out life one to another, in the big holy ordinary of eating a meal in common.

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1) Light some candles.  I can’t think of a better way to get people drawn-in to the table, to the people seated ’round it, than candlelight.  The surrounding darkness makes the table the middle of our story, a place of importance, the rest of the house no longer competes with it’s piles of mail to be sorted and discarded backpacks and lost shoes.  It’s calming (unless you have a budding pyro in the bunch….I hear tell that they make electric tea lights now).

2)  Music?  Yes, please.  There’s some out there that just lifts your day right off your shoulders and whisks it away, beyond the candle’s light.

3)  Flowers, branches, a tablecloth, some bit of beauty there that says that this space was made mindfully.  Flowers usually mean something important is happening, right?  A prom, a wedding, a funeral, a new relationship, the celebration of an old one.

4)  Ditch the paper plates or plasticware (unless you have a budding destructo little person, of course).  The tactile and aural qualities of eating on ceramic or porcelain is worth that extra effort.  I almost think it makes the food taste better :).

5)  Ditch the electronics; no tv babbling in the background nor texting.  If your phone keeps dinging in the next room, go turn it off during dinner so that you’re present at the table, fully there.

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Happy feasting…