Distracted by God

Woman tweets at HIV/AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
In the time it takes to read this article, I expect you will be distracted. You may receive an email at work, the phone might ring, your baby could cry, a colleague will sneeze, your dog may fart, and thus — I lose your attention. You may come back to the article, or in many cases, you may move on to cater to one of the many noises, sounds or smells we come across in our daily lives. If that point is now, thanks for reading and I recommend you stop feeding Fido leftover Indian food.

Since the time Advent commenced this year, I have chosen to concentrate on what steals my attention, in hopes of growing more focused in my daily tasks. In other words, I am purposely distracting myself from my distractions in order to examine that which distracts. After writing that line, I checked a football score, ate some reduced fat cheese nips, and rearranged a basket of pinecones sitting on my desk. At the time I’m writing this — 11:30 the evening before this piece needs to be submitted — I have had the first two weeks of Advent to reflect on distractions and have appropriately remained distracted until the last possible hour. Some may call this procrastination; I call it perfectly timed spiritual research.

The world as our parents knew it has fundamentally changed. We are part of a culture of millennials living in a burgeoning secular society. The instant a movie ends or a plane lands, we voraciously plug back into the social ecosystems we abandoned for ephemeral travel or pleasure. The moment we awake, we must know all that was missed. We mine the places that have intrigued us before and are always hoping to find further sources of interest or community. At no point, amidst the technological innovations and access of the day, should we be bored.

Oh, but how I miss being bored.

Showering with an iPhone

Distraction is the new normal for so many of us. It is our job to make sure, when surveying the minutia of the world’s offerings, we find ourselves equally distracted by God too.

For the first two weeks of Advent, I made great strides to unplug. This involved self imposed “no-iPhone time” with a focus on prayer and peace as its replacement. Yet the temptress of immediate information would always win out, as my prayers usually morphed into mental to-do lists of tasks that needed to be completed today, and would require an internet surfing device. Perchance I decided to hold firm to my moratorium on all things Apple, a quick inventory of my apartment led to the stark realization there were seven, yes seven, other working conduits that could conjure up my beloved Gmail, Facebook and YouTube.

After writing that sentence, I wondered if “beloved” was too strong a word to describe websites; I then checked the water levels of the Christmas tree, brushed my teeth, and searched for one of my favorite classical music pieces by Camille Saint-Saens — Symphony #3 with organ. I stop at this point to say a brief Hail Mary and realize that silent prayer put to orchestral organ music actually deepens the experience for me. I then went to take a quick shower, bringing my iPhone with me. You might think showering with an iPhone is both reckless and irresponsible.

It is.

It is also, when carefully propped behind the soap dish, a great shower radio and always ready to be turned into a note-taking device, should an idea or inspiration come to mind. Showering with your smart phone is the epitome of a generation addicted to interconnectivity, social networks, and always needing an outlet for expression. By all accounts, it is a complete failure in my Advent experiment. Yet, this closing thought is made possible by the fact that there was an iPhone in the shower and I could type it the moment it came to mind: “Distraction is the new normal for so many of us. It is our job to make sure, when surveying the minutia of the world’s offerings, we find ourselves equally distracted by God too.”

A productive failure

Next time you are adding new people to follow on Twitter, squeeze in a few @Pontifex tweets between your @LindsayLohan and @Shaq ones. Add some old Christian spiritual songs to your next iTunes playlist. Download the CatholicTV app on your smart phone so you can hear two-minute inspirational videos on your walk to work or during time at the gym. And if you don’t have a smart phone, having a set of rosary beads in your pocket can always keep you busy. I believe the innocent days of boredom are gone and it is now a responsibility of the faithful to direct or distract those of us waiting to choose our next moment of attentiveness.

So to those who made it through to the end of this article, I commend you. You have succeeded in staying focused (or determined) long enough to see if this stream-of-consciousness elementally distracted article had a point. If you feel it did not, I suppose then I have failed in fulfilling the very advice I espouse, and the “comments” will be my judge and jury; yet if I have succeeded, even if just marginally, the next two weeks of Advent and perhaps beyond, may be distracting in all the right ways.