Not a Dinner Party


Thoughts, Musings and Opinions about Theology, Politics, and Life in Seminary.

Thoughts on Distraction

There are several things that I have been wanting to write about, but have been unable to shake a recent bout of laziness. Here are some things that I have wanted to write about, so I make sure that I don’t forget, when the time comes, which, hopefully, is soon: the ideal church; issues of exclusion and who is in or out in our churches; marriage and various books about it; youth in China, etc. So, expect some posts about these things soon, and feel free to remind me, if necessary. Tonight, however, I was especially moved by a sermon that I heard at St. John’s, Shaugnessy (I know, it’s a somewhat controversial church–but it’s where I’ve felt the most at home since starting at Regent). The text was Matthew 6:5-14, and the sermon was on the second line in the Lord’s Prayer: …hallowed be your [thy] name. I thought that Aaron Roberts did a wonderful job of taking four words and unfolding a deeper truth. His point was, essentially, that to ask–to request of God–that His name would be hallowed or “made holy” is to ask that He be at the center of the individual’s life, as He is at the center of the universe, holding it together as Creator and Sustainer, and as we were built for Him to be in us. Aaron noted–drawing on Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death–that anything else that we might place at the center of our lives will be unable to reciprocate our love or devotion and will be incapable of ever forgiving us. To ask that God’s name be hallowed is to ask that He hold his rightful place in our lives and in the world.

imageDB.cgiAaron gave us a few minutes at the end of his sermon to ask the Holy Spirit to show us the things that occupy the place of primacy in our hearts and lives. He repeated/suggested things like: spouses, marriage, money, career, ambition, etc. But, as I knelt there, and as the Spirit worked, I realized that none of these were quite applicable for me: rather than any one defining thing commanding my devotion, there is, instead, a bundle of small and trivial things, which I rely on to provide me with a few seconds of relief from challenges, thoughts, intensity, fear, etc. The incredible irony here is that I came to faith at a very young age (12) because I had suddenly realized–with great horror–at around age 10, that every adult around me was distracting themselves from the reality of death and dying. Maybe this is not true; there may be plenty of adults that are at peace with their mortality. At the same time, I looked around me and saw everyone busy trying to give their lives meaning and direction, filling every spare minute with hobbies, activities, plans for the future, etc. While, to them, it may have seemed totally innocent and well-intentioned, I wondered what would happen if they stopped their gardening, do-gooding, reading, drinking, planning or cause-crusading and faced the reality that in decades (or days) they would die? It then struck me that these hobbies, activities, causes and plans were compulsively undertaken, with one thing proceeding immediately after the last, so that no one would ever have to stop and look into the great darkness; the void. Interestingly, there is a book about this, which I have yet to read (embarrassingly), but that was recommended to me by another student at Gordon when I read an essay on this subject to an advanced composition class. Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist, wrote The Denial of Death in 1974, which similarly asserted that our lives and life choices are largely motivated by our desperate need to avoid thinking about or facing death.

I decided that I didn’t want to spend my life running here and there, looking desperately for distractions, “chasing after the wind,” as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it. I wanted to face mortality and eternity, think about it, decide what I believed, and then live in light of that thing. Because I was only 10, this search was obviously not fully developed or articulated, but I set out to find a religion, and became a Christian at 12, finding Jesus’ claims, truth, peace, promise, and freedom to be my answer, my purpose, and my meaning. This only “works,” though, is only actually effective at changing a life rather than being a “lifeboat” or plan B for eternal life, if one takes it seriously, and lives as if it were true, rather than merely hopes that it is. Because a) meaning and purpose are more than just knowing where you go when you die but about how this changes the way that you live and b) eventually, you turn 11, 12, 13, 18, 20 25, 27, and with increased understanding and experience comes complexity, wisdom and nuance of belief (hopefully). I realized that the Gospel changed my life NOW, not just assuaged my fear of eternity. In my life, what I think this means is that God needs to be, as St. Patrick said:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

In other words, being a Christian entails utter and complete dependence upon Christ. He is within, to direct me; He is to my right and left, meeting me at every turn. He should be so apparent in me that others see Him and speak of Him when the see me and speak of me. He should be my first thought and my last thought. In practice, this  means that, when I am sad, I pray; when I panic, I pray; when I am angry, I cry out and rage against God; when I am overjoyed, my joy flows outward in gratitude toward Jesus’; when I am afraid, I ask for comfort. When I am at a loss, I ask God for what’s next. You get my drift.

Do I do this? NO. Here is what I mostly do when faced with an intense or overwhelming feeling, a challenging moment, a frustrating situation: take a nap, play a silly game on the computer, update my facebook status, go for a long drive, call someone, visit someone, smoke a cigarette, have a glass of wine, make a list. These are not grand causes or objects of devotion, these are DISTRACTIONS. These are, taken cumulatively, a waste of precious, valuable, fleeting, glorious life.

Is there something about our generation and those younger than us that replaces the big sins, the big temptations, the grand causes, the great loves, the great pleasures with the small, petty, trivial distractions: the computer, pop culture, a TV show, the internet, a night out, a fling, a flirtation, a pill, a nap, a game, a phone call, a text, a blog, etc?? I often feel as though my generation is better able to avoid the big questions, the terror at the end of life, eternity, mortality, meaning; however, even as a Christian, I seem pretty well able to avoid my Lord and my God.

My prayer, then, is that I would hallow the name of God by turning to Him in every moment where there is a question, a hesitation, a wondering, “what should I do NOW?”–that I would slow myself down for one second and allow God to be present there, right there. Because I move too fast from the question–with all of its potential–to the distraction, and postpone God for another day, another moment, another situation. I want to love Jesus and rely on Him in every moment, and ask of Him now–TODAY–that this would be so. I pray this for you, reader, as well.

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3 Responses

  1. lucas damoff says:

    Amen, thanks for praying it for me. I’ll pray it for you as well.


  2. Julie Lieser says:

    That was amazing anna….brought me to tears…your writing is exceptional. Love you!

  3. LK says:

    People walk around pushing back their debts,
    Wearing pay checks like necklaces and bracelets,
    Talking ‘bout nothing, not thinking ‘bout death,
    Every little heartbeat, every little breath.

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