Distraction is an interior fracture. it will never lead the person to encounter himself, for it impedes him from looking into the mirror of his heart. Collecting oneself is the beginning.” – Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis)
Odds are you are reading this on an electronic device. (If you’re not, please let me know who printed my writing without my permission.) Technology has been so great in helping provide society with great advancement. It allows for the immediate distribution of information. It allows one to acquire new knowledge at a much lower base cost. It admits for global communication, which means both communicating from one side of the globe to the other and communicating to a great mass of people. We find ourselves on our phones, tablets, and computers. More than any other time in history do we have a critical mass of distraction. Our phones notify us when our Trivia Crack opponent (people still play Trivia Crack right?) responds to his questions. It informs us of breaking news, an @ mention on Twitter, a like on Facebook, a comment on an Instagram photo, a weather warning, and the group texts between a group of friends who beating an inside joke to death. In fact, Dr. Taylor Marshall has said that each person we follow on Twitter, each friend of Facebook vies for our attention. “Read my post!” “Listen to ME!” “Look at me!” It’s like putting every single person you know in your pocket.
According to their statistics, there are 300 hours of video uploaded to Youtube every minute. Each, or most, vie for our attention when we go to see a grumpy cat video. Then, there are all those little games on our phone to occupy us in line at the grocery store. We score those little points here and there. We surpass this friend here, beat that friend in a game of intellect there. Then, there are the actual video game systems that can distract us for longer amounts of time until the next time we have a responsibility. Amidst all of this noise that is constantly being pushed upon us, our consciousness resembles Tokyo or Las Vegas, where lights are so bright that even the night feels like day.
Cardinal Bergoglio, in a conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka*, peers into this seeming perpetual motion with an insight coming from a place of rest. He calls distraction an interior fracture. It slowly disables our interior from functioning properly. Each distraction is its own micro-fracture slowly weakening the structure both of our intellect and our spirit. It prevents us from looking into the mirror of our hearts, he says. We do not even enter the bedroom to peer at the mirror.
Looking back into my own life, I can attest to this. The more I succumbed to distraction from my phone the harder it was for me to reflect, the harder it was to meditate, and the harder it was to contemplate. Part of the effectiveness of retreats, I found, was that I freed myself from distraction in so doing allowing myself to hear both the movements of my own heart and the movement of the Spirit with my heart.
In days gone by, the pace of life and the lack of immediate distractions gave the greater space for reflection and prayer. From this came beautiful poetry, art, literature (imagine Jane Austen writing Pride and Prejudice with an iPhone sitting next to her, nope she’d been all up on Pintrest.), and powerful mysticism. At the risk of assuming to much about you, my reader, we live in the relative economic ease that Jane Austen experienced, but unlike her, we so fill our time with distractions that our great creations are … memes (excuse my cynicism).
Because we no longer have the luxury of limited distraction, unless you are cloistered or a mountain man, we have to make intentional distraction-free time for the building up of our intellects, hearts, souls, and sanity. I recall a conversation I had with some fellow bloggers a few years ago about using the iPad for prayer. It’s so filled with distractional possibilities it can, by its nature, nearly sabotage prayer, especially if you are as unvirtuous as myself.
Although it might be that you started reading this post as a distraction, I invite you, challenge you even to close the browser, app, or tablet and sit for a few moment in silence away from dings and chirps and closer to your your heart and the heart of God.