Do I check my phone more often than I check in with God? Always good to ask. But more generally the question is: What am I doing with the precious gift of my attention? What am I truly worshipping with what I focus on, moment by moment? … knowing that just to be alive and conscious every moment itself is a miracle (even if at times it can be excruciating, I’m not going to lie.)
“How strange it is to be anything at all” – I love that line, it’s from a song by the indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel. (And, yes, I am stealing here, with gratitude, from Stephen Colbert) “O what a beautiful face I have found in this place that is orbiting all ‘round the sun. What a beautiful scene that’s flashed on a screen, and in a blink of the eye it’s gone from me – soft and sweet, let me hold it close and keep it here with me… How strange it is to be anything at all.”
What a strange and marvelous gift it is to be. Sometimes we experience bliss, sometimes we experience excruciating pain, but throughout the heart of who we are is grounded in a great and godly scope of existence far beyond the bounds of what we usually assume.
We are made of earth-stuff, earth-stuff that is in fact star-stuff, elements forged in fiery celestial bodies that exploded, sewing those elements through the universe to be constellated and re-constellated time and again, over eons, until, somehow, they come together to rise here and now on earth as sentient beings, breathing and billowing with spirit.
“I praise you God,” sings the Psalm, “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wondrous are your works. That I know very well.” Wondrous, yes, and brief.
“Tell me,” as the poet Mary Oliver put it … “Tell me, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”
These are the questions, this is the perspective that as people of faith we always try to keep front and center. But we especially challenge ourselves with them during the period of Lent in the church cycle.
Lent is the 40 days of preparation Leading into the Easter celebration of God’s strange and marvelous revelation through the death and resurrection of the holy incarnation we find in Christ.
The invitation to us is to turn our attention to what is most sacred and true. Lent can be for us a time to re-focus ourselves on God and to be attending to our souls and tending to what our souls are needing. Lent is traditionally a period of fasting, giving up meat or alcohol or something else we really like. Fasting is an ancient spiritual practice, you find it in every religious tradition. It’s a way to change our relationship with our appetites and discipline our attention and our commitment so our lives can become more focused on what is ultimately most important. What is ultimately most important is our relationship with the Living God.
Now, as Jesus taught in our Gospel reading for today, fasting, like anything else, can easily become just another rote religious thing, or, even worse, just another way of making a big show of being holier than thou. (Matthew 6:16-21) Jesus’ teaching is that when we fast, we keep it to ourselves and we keep our focus on our inner relationship with God. Keep our focus on the inner purpose of fasting, which is to take a good hard look at our priories, remembering that “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also”
Where are we investing our “treasures” – our time, our attention, our effort? Is it in things that are shallow and fleeting, which are ultimately unsatisfying and – even worse – death-dealing? Or are we putting our time, our attention and effort in what is eternal, of by and for God, which is ultimately truly satisfying, life giving, giving of life everlasting? “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” The truth is that when we turn our hearts to God, we find great freedom and satisfaction. Fasting from the right things for the right reasons doesn’t inflict suffering for us but actually liberates us from suffering. As a matter of fact, the theme I will be exploring through the Sundays of Lent – next week onto Easter – is the theme of Jubilee. Jesus came to proclaim Jubilee, which means freedom from what burdens us, specifically freedom from debt. There are lots of dimensions to what this means, so during Lent we’ll be exploring the meanings of Christ’s Jubilee.
So, for right now, this is the invitation: Is there something we can do differently this Lent to turn our attention to what is most sacred and true? Is there something we can fast from, or something we can practice differently to re-focus ourselves on God and to be attending to our souls and tending to what our souls are needing? Here’s one way to approach this: – Pay attention to what you pay attention to. – Then notice what you pay attention to more often than you check in with your soul and check in with God. – Then pay attention to why you pay attention to this. – Then ask – really truly, why, what’s the real need here, the soul need that’s behind this desire. And is that need actually satisfied? – Then ask – how can I do this differently? How can I invite God into this? How can I turn my attention to God and involve God in a way that truly addresses my deeper soul-need, that truly gives me even a moment of holy Jubilee?
So, let’s say someone finds that they are checking their phone more often than they’re checking in with God. (Very common ailment, which I know nothing about.) If this person goes through these kinds of questions for Lent, they may find that the real need that’s driving their behavior is the need to feel less alone and more connected, more connected with people they care about and with the wider world, which they care about. And once someone names this real need, this soul-need, they begin to see that compulsively checking their phone doesn’t actually satisfy this need. It actually makes it worse, it actually makes someone feel more scattered and disconnected, let alone closer to the greatest connection of all, with God. If you’re sick of that, here’s a practice for Lent. Let’s resolve that when we find ourselves reaching for our phone, when we don’t truly need to use it, we can just check ourselves and check in with God. It can be just as simple with putting our hand on our heart and breathing and inviting God in. Just a couple of seconds may be enough to feel more connected with ourselves, with our real needs, more connected with God, with the world around us. And maybe we find that we do need to talk to a friend. In that case can go ahead and use our phones to do that. Or maybe we find that we’re trying to avoid feeling something we don’t want to feel and the phone would just be a way of avoiding and putting off this discomfort. Now we know what we need to pray on. Instead of having that feeling pull us around by the nose and get sucked into some junk on the internet, we can pause and invite God in and perhaps have a moment of Jubilee.
See how this works?
If you want to take this invitation for this season of Lent, the practice you need, the fast you need, will dawn on you if you pray on it. “Tell me, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”