The writings of Henri Nouwen have been filling my meditation and challenging me to consider how we can spiritually survive our journey today.
“Our culture has become most sophisticated in the avoidance of pain, not only our physical pain but our emotional and mental pain as well. … When we have no project to finish, no friend to visit, no book to read, no television to watch or no record to play, and when we are left all alone by ourselves we are brought so close to the revelation of our basic human aloneness and are so afraid of experiencing an all-pervasive sense of loneliness that we will do anything to get busy again.”
-Henri J. M. Nouwen Reaching Out (first published 1975)
Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me. And what you want to give me is love — unconditional, everlasting love. Amen.
-Henri Nouwen With Open Hands (first published 1972)
When I put down my phone,
When I turn off the news,
When I take a break from the Netflix show I am binging,
When I try to get quiet inside,
My hands twitch towards my pocket or bag
As I try to find that smooth device that keeps me tethered to …
What is it I’m yearning to be tethered to:
Reality? Busyness? The avoidance of pain or fear?
What is it that I’m seeking to fill up the emptiness inside of me?
They say God created us with a God-shaped hole inside of us.
And then I put everything I can into that place
So that I don’t have to feel lonely or anxious or empty.
God is calling me to reclaim the disciplines that I have forgotten.
For me, they are sabbath, silence, and breathing.
What are the disciplines to which you’re being called?
On the 7th day of my vacation at a remote cabin in Colorado, the DSL line providing my internet connection went down, and I got to see how dependent I’ve become on my electronic relationships. It had probably been three years since I spent any significant time disconnected from my cell phone, my email (and all those other seemingly invaluable tools such as Facebook and Twitter).
The wireless router was still sending its signal — and I kept glancing at its strength – but there was no internet . And every so often, I launched a browser … just to check to see if the connection had been repaired.
There was a land line at the cabin (a cordless phone, even), but I felt anxiety starting to build. What if something really important from work needed my attention? What about all those emails that were going to pile up? How was I going to check in for my flight on Southwest?
Goodness, this is ridiculous, I said to myself. It’s pitiful … and it’s not healthy … to be this dependent on technology. This is what I write and preach about — disconnecting with email so that we can connect with God. How ironic it was to find myself in that void — separated from God, the only thing that could fill the empty place left by my sudden electronic interruption.
“You satisfy the hungry heart,” the song played in my head. Fill me, O God, with your presence. Forgive my obsession with being wired (or wireless). You are the Source of my true connection. Amen.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about a friend who gave up email for lent (“Fasting from Email“). We’re just a few weeks into this year’s Lent and Lenten practices are getting a quite a bit of press, thanks to a number of religious leaders coming out with the suggestion that people consider giving up Twitter, Facebook, or texting for Lent.
I use Twitter, Facebook, texting, and email and don’t feel called to give up any of them for Lent. But I find this discussion very helpful and healthy. What is Lenten practice about? Why give up chocolate or Twitter? Or take on more prayer or a Lenten study? It’s about finding the things that block me from God’s presence and giving them up. Or it’s about taking on something that will strengthen my relationship to God.
It’s easy to hear judgment when I hear that church leaders are calling the faithful to give up technology for Lent. That’s why I found really helpful this conversation with Father James Martin, associate editor of the Catholic weekly magazine, America. Listen to this story from NPR’s Saturday Edition.