Magnificent Distractions

18 Apr

Whether standing, sitting, walking or talking, it seems that half the people I see are somewhere else. They gaze into that handheld device that puts them in touch with the big wide world. They are wherever they want to be, except where they are.

So writes theologian Michael Downey in “So Much Nothing” in Weavings 29 (May/June 2014), p. 21. Around here, in small-town Iowa, even on our college campus, it is not nearly half the people who walk around gazing into handheld devices. Yet, I know what Downey is driving at. I don’t have a handheld device (well, we do, but it is a basic, primitive, cheap, no-frills thing we only turn on when we go on long road trips). Even so, I have a hard time being where I am. I and so many of the rest of us, its seems, are, to use Downey’s phrasing, “magnificently distracted.”

It is hard to be present to where we are/I am.

This difficulty seems hard for me to avoid as I sit in my office on this Good Friday, having graded all the research papers that have come in. In order to grade, I’ve suppressed my inner restlessness as best I can. Now that the grading is, for the moment, over, the inner restlessness–or is it tiredness?–surges.

Sculpture outside of chapel, Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, CA.

Sculpture outside of chapel, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.

I recall something from Romano Guardini, the 20th-century Italian Catholic priest and philosopher, wrote. I read it days ago in the Lenten reader I am following (Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter [Maryknoll, MY: Orbins Books, 2005], pp. 122-123). He is speaking of the risen Jesus’ comment to Thomas in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!”

Blessed indeed are “those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!” Those who ask for no miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but who find God’s message in everyday life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but who know that everything coming from God must remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring. Those who know that the heart is not overcome by faith, that there is no force or violence there, compelling belief by rigid certitudes. What comes from God touches gently, comes quietly; does not disturb freedom; leads to quiet, profound, peaceful resolve within the heart.

And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain open-hearted. Who seek to cleanse their hearts of all self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, inclination to “know better.” Who are quick to hear, humble, free-spirited. Who are able to find God’s message in the gospel for the day, or even from the sermons of preachers with no message in particular, or in phrases from the Law they have heard a thousand times, phrases with no quality of charismatic power about them, or in the happenings of everyday life which always end up the same way: work and rest, anxiety–and then again some kind of success, some joy, an encounter, and a sorrow.

Blessed are those who can see the Lord in all these things!

Seeing God in the ordinary, the mundane, the grading, the here and the now, takes presence.

Lord Jesus Christ, as you were and are present for us this terrible and magnificent Good Friday, so in you may I be present now and not distracted.


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