Friday, May 9, 2014

Elevator Talk: You are here

      I spent much of this week at a conference/retreat in Breckenridge.  Every time I needed to go to my hotel room, I was confronted with the sign above (I never DID find the stairwell!).  And the more I stared at the sign while waiting for the elevator, the more I realized that it was a relatively apt visual metaphor for much of the focus of (at least one session of) the conference.
     Our conference speaker was a Christian monk, and his addresses ranged far and wide -- but with one over-riding theme (poorly paraphrased):  "God made you.  Appreciate the gift that you are."  And, so, one of the underlying questions was how to do that.  Certainly he had a lot of very good suggestions; I'll ponder them for a while.
     In one session, however, he read the following quotation:

We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit, and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible. 

As our retreat speaker pointed out, this was written in 1948.  He went on to enumerate all of the technologies and distractions that were NOT around in 1948, everything from iPads to television to supermarkets (his list was MUCH longer).  And he observed that if the above represented a situation sixty-five years ago, how much more it represents today.   The downside to all of that "excitement" is that we have less and less opportunity or impetus to stop and figure out "where we are" (my terms, not his!).
      It didn't take a lot of deep reflection on my part to realize how much I rely on technological distraction or entertainment or . . .   Most days I spend a few minutes loading my smartphone with the podcasts I'll hear as I commute.  In the office, I often find an internet radio station (often soundtracks, if you're interested).  The idea of silence, or, at least, of non-technological noise is almost unthinkable.  I've almost come to the point where, if music isn't playing in the background, I feel like something's wrong.
      "Like something's wrong" could be another way of saying that I'm not sure where I am.  If I mask every moment with some artificial distraction, will I see where I am, really?  Do the "screens" of sound, activity, or computers help me know myself, or do they keep me from knowing myself?  Do they keep me from being present with my friends, my family?  Given the options of "exits" to either side, or elevators before me, can I know where I am, or where to focus my attention?
       I don't know that I want someone else to print a red dot telling me "You are here".  That sounds like a rather dangerous proposition.  Our speaker suggested attending to silence -- something I don't do enough.  Doing that, he implied, allows a different Voice to speak, One more authentic.  One that might affirm the gift of myself that I've been given, One that might give me a better picture of where I am.

Chaplain Gary

*Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948).

No comments:

Post a Comment