Friday, November 16, 2012

Pick Up a Book

Either in the evening or the early morning, I like picking up a book or an article that is worth reading and spend 15 minutes exercising my mind and tweaking my soul. It’s not a lot of time, but it can add up. The key is to find something that allows you to read the uniquely insightful or the quietly unpredictable. The idea is to drip-irrigate the soul.

Several writers fall into that category for me. Annie Dillard and Thomas Merton are clear candidates. You simply cannot read anything they’ve written and not walk away with a curious and peculiar interior twinge that sits in a corner of your mind and begins to seep into your consciousness at odd moments throughout the day. The poet Billy Collins is another writer who drops in unannounced and ferrets around one’s mind with humour, insight, and poetry.

Currently, the interesting writer for me is Ronald Rolheiser, a very popular Catholic author and theologian who is in great demand as a guest speaker at conferences and the like. The reason is because he is accessible, insightful, and spot-on with his remarks. He forces you to think by drawing you into a reflective stance. He writes, for example, that we “…for every kind of reason, good and bad, are distracting ourselves into spiritual oblivion. It is not that we have anything against God, depth, and spirit, we would like these, it just that we are habitually too preoccupied to have any of these show up on our radar screens. We are more busy than bad, more distracted than nonspiritual, and more interested in the movie theater, the sports stadium, and the shopping mall and the fantasy life they produce in us than we are in church. Pathological busyness, distraction, and restlessness are major blocks today within our spiritual lives.” (The Holy Longing, Pgs. 32-33)

If this is the likely situation for many of us, one can only imagine what it may be for our children. The expression “You are what you eat” is as true of our souls as it is of our bodies. For example, there are terrific things available through technology that enhance our lives and enable greater leisure activities. But by itself, technology does not lead to better things. Through them, however, better things may be pursued. There are choices involved.

The use of technology itself is a choice, perhaps subject to degrees of attachment, and we should occasionally remind ourselves of the “choiceness” involved. Some years ago, a college student who had become concerned about his dependence on technology decided that each Sunday would be a “screen-free” Sunday. No television, movies, computer, phone, or whatever might have a screen. You can imagine the result, both on the first day and after several months of practice. I don’t know if I could begin to do the same thing very easily, but I’m interested in trying, because retreats of any kind are retreats of some kind, and this little personal retreat from technology sounds as if it may be worthwhile.

Picking up a book and exercising one’s mind is one thing, but actually doing something that tweaks one’s soul is much more difficult; rewarding perhaps, but certainly beyond the zone of comfort that, for many, leads to Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation.” And there’s so much more to life than that.

Start with regular sips from a good book or article and see where it leads.