I write about some things over and over. I know this. I’m writing to myself, of course. I do the same thing when I’m preaching, speaking or telling stories. I absolutely know that I have recurring themes. Cultivating attentiveness is one of my favorites. The reason I re-visit it so often is that I have not at all mastered it.
It is a spiritual discipline to attend to something. It is a sign of spiritual maturity to be awake, alert and mindful of the present moment. Being attentive and mindful also decreases anxiety, cultivates gratitude and wonder and enhances trust. Being truly “in” a moment releases good endorphins into our system which heal us and bring us peace. Who wouldn’t want that?
In my new, slower life, with my no driving, no walking too far broken ankle limitations, you’d think I’d be able to just be attentive. I do have moments. At the beginning of the summer I declared I would now be a watcher of sunrises and sunsets. Our Creator has not disappointed me once when I sat still and watched. I didn’t know how many colors were possible in the morning and evening sky. I didn’t know when you think the sunrise or sunset is at its peak, if you just wait, it will get even better. I’m learning.
The problem, honestly, is technology. My phone is a big problem. It’s just so temptingly distracting. It’s even good for documenting what I’m paying attention to, a sunrise, a meal, a baby… Except once you start documenting, you miss something of the essence of what you were trying to attend to.
Yesterday morning, I was on my son-in-law and daughter’s porch. The sun was rising spectacularly. I could tell it was going to be one of those pink, blue and yellow sunrises where the sun comes up behind the clouds and outlines them in shimmering silver and gold. At the exact moment, I would normally snap a picture of it, my son-in-law brought my three-week old grandson out to me. So imagine, baby on my lap: sweet noises and stretches and precious expressions. Sun, rising spectacularly.
I was aware, and this seems very sad, of feeling anxious because I could not reach my phone for a picture of any of it. I had to actually talk to myself and say “Stop it. Just take it in. Just be here for this. That’s enough.”
What is wrong with me/us? (I’m including you in on this too, just in case you must have a phone in your hands at all times.)
Are we so connected that we are missing life? Do we not even know how to attend to creation, people and holy moments anymore?
I’m reading a book called “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in Digital Age” by MIT Professor, Sherry Turkle. She studies the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. The bottom line of her work is this: because of our over-connectedness through technology, we are losing the art of connecting in real ways.
She writes, “Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about….Even a silent phone disconnects us.” She has more to say about solitude, relationships, education, work and parenting in relation to technology. And thankfully, she offers solutions and assures us we are not too far gone. This whole technology phenomena is relatively new, we can still correct our course.
So, I’m starting with me. I’m bringing up this issue yet again. I’m crying out for more attentiveness in my own life. I’ve designated a portion of my day to be phone-free. I’m working towards a technology Sabbath each week. I’m going to pay more attention to babies, sunrises and the person sitting across from me. I really prefer real life and real moments, don’t you? I honestly believe that’s where God’s grace breaks through.