Archive for February, 2011

The Challenge of Contemplation

I’m leading my faith community through a teaching series concerning the connection between emotional health with spiritual health. Part of the series are daily soul-training exercises, posted on our Facebook page and on our blog, ┬ádesigned to reconnect ourselves to the roots of contemplation as taught by the Desert Fathers. In posting these soul-training exercises to the web, I have allowed for a potentially insidious thing to happen: the same devices most of us use to navigate our lives – computers, iPads and smartphones – can actually be a distraction to the very contemplation I am advocating. Follow me.

Author and business guru Tony Schwartz writes often about the electronic distractions we face daily as we try and work. With just a keystroke or two we have access to Google, YouTube, Facebook, blogs and books, not to mention TV shows, newspapers, magazines and Twitter. The same can be said of our attempts to be contemplative.

Social critic Linda Stone has coined the phrase continuous partial attention to describe the divided way we attempt to focus. Her basic point is that we keep one thing at the top level of our focus while at the same time scanning the periphery in case something more exciting or engaging emerges. In her words, “staying singly focused on a task in this digital era is like trying to resist eating while sitting in a bakery as cookies, pies, cakes and tarts emerge fresh and fragrant from the oven.”

Finding that quiet place, as free of distraction as possible, has always been my secret weapon for contemplation. I had never really considered how the very technology I use to assist my contemplation might actually be detracting from it. What do you think?




Letting Go

In an early morning ceremony today, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow in Pennsylvania and signaled to the world that he saw no shadow today, thereby foretelling an early end to winter. Over the century and a quarter that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow only 16 times including today. The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. Today’s smaller than usual crowd, who stood in freezing rain to watch the ceremony, responded with a subdued clap of the hands.

An early spring. A decidedly difficult concept yet appealing concept for us North Texans. We’re enduring a second straight day of record-breaking low temperatures and iced-over roads. Thousands of Super Bowl bound visitors are stranded in airports around the country waiting for the airports in our region to get back to full service. Snow and icy roads. Schools and offices closed. Rolling electrical blackouts. It’s inconvenient. It’s a hassle. It causes us to let go.

We hate to let go. We need to be in control. Most of us are shocked to discover how great this need is. What’s true in work-a-day life is true in our spiritual life as well. We seem to prefer a clear and comfortable theology to the mystery of followership. Contemplative spirituality creates in us the ability to let go of our need to be successful, of our need to be right and our need to be in control. Letting in go is not easy. Perhaps a few more snow days might allow the lesson to sink deeper into our souls.