One of the great gifts of my retreat was the disconnection from the internet – and yes I am not unaware of the irony of disclosing this on the internet, but bear with me 🙂
For many years now I’ve experienced what I can only describe as constant mental distractedness, fragmentation and stress, and my time away from the screen in addition to rich times of prayer and communion with the Ngatiawa Community saw this disappear for the first time for a long time. Returning home, feeling Well in a way I had never experienced, (And with people telling me how different I seemed and how well I looked) I noted that blogging, social media etc. just raised this sense of stressful distraction once more. Surfing, keeping an eye out for messages, following link after link of fascinating and ‘worthy’ posts just brought back that old dull pain in my forehead. [And thank you for your concern but my glasses prescription is fine 🙂 ]
I’d ceased to live from my heart. I realised that I was writing mechanically out of a knot of mental wires. My blogging had just become one more thing to do. It wasn’t life giving – it left me drained. Unwell
Doing some research bore out what I had thought, that using the internet was in effect rewiring me neurologically. To put not to fine a point on it, the very nature of the internet affects us fundamentally, at a physiological level. It is certainly not going too far to say that our consciousness becomes wired into the net through our engagement. Whether you like to think of this or not, I think it is demonstrably true. Along with a good number of others, I had lost the ability to concentrate especially when reading books. (not good news when one is preparing for long term serious study that will take all my powers of prayerful attention)
I used to love study but it had become increasingly difficult. In neurological terms I was addicted to changing tracks – following ‘interesting links’ one after another – with nothing driving the process except my appetite for mental stimulation, fed by regular dopamine shots as I followed one rabbit hole after another. Long Deep Reading had become impossible for me where once it was my joy to get lost in a book.
Beyond this, research has shown that our capacity for deep relationship is very limited. (That recurrent theme of depth) By so much engagement I am spreading myself far far thinner than that limit. As I have said many times – there is a world of difference between written text and the sound of a voice, with its pauses and colour – and that is before you think of communication which is embodied, those occasions when long silence can be profound gift. In the ‘virtual world’ of the internet – silence only gives cause for concern. James’ warning to be slow to speak is unobservable.
As a Priest I am as it were bi-vocational. I am called to be with God -to spend long hours in prayer – and to be with people with God. As my pattern is the Word made flesh – I too am called to be such a presence. And Called to be a presence Here. Despite the fervent protestations of its acolytes, such engagement is not possible in virtual reality. When we die, we don’t want lots of text messages – we want a hand, the sound of breath, touch, an eye to look into. And we should live as though dying, for we always are.
[The fact that anyone engages with any degree of seriousness in conversations about the possibility of Virtual Church makes me shiver in my very core. How can we have come to a point where we are so blind, so led astray by the Prince of this world??!]
I know that I came away from retreat Well a few weeks back, and rewired into the net, and that sense of wellness dissipated. If I take time out it returns. It was interesting to observe this – to test it . . . Once, a long time ago, I foolishly played with fire like this. I was testing my vocation. I noticed that when I asked God for a sign, I got it – if I didn’t, I didn’t. I began to enjoy this, until I saw the utter sinfulness of my behaviour. I sense God gave me great healing in and through that disconnection – enabling me to be present to the world and other people and indeed with him in a way I had known deep down I hadn’t been for a long time.
This isn’t an age when we can afford to play with fire. I know what the internet does to me – I know how it draws me away from Him and His presence in others. I know how it sucks me dry and spits me out.
I am saying that this is a particular weakness of mine. There may be others who can navigate these waters without harm. All I know is that I once thought that way – I have realised that I was wrong.
So – sermon postings aside, I’m disconnecting from this blog and other internet use, at least for the time being. There is a possibility that in the future I may again post articles on the blog, but they will be the product of the prayerful reflection that the internet has for now made impossible for me.
I’m not deleting my FB account, although I have had a mind to. Partly because it can be a means of keeping in touch with friends, but I think I will probably reduce my participation to FB messenger on my phone, which is always on silent and which I only check periodically.
[Re-reading this I find it dreadfully incoherent – another sign that it is time to ‘log off’ :-)]
This has not been an easy post to write – indeed it has been edited etc. many times over and still doesn’t really say what I want to, but perhaps there again as another reason to quit. But as I was just about to go to sleep I read the following in Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove’s excellent book ‘Stability’ a book which I’ve much enjoyed and learned much from – this really seemed to sum things up
“What we hardly ever want to admit is that we are limited creatures. Subject to the confines of time and space, we cannot be anywhere, anytime. As a matter of fact, we can only be in this place, now.”
I think for those of us wealthy enough to be able to read this, this is a huge challenge. We live in a world which seems to us to be of almost unlimited opportunities. So much so that we have largely lost touch with our 180lb frame of flesh and blood and often those around us. What Is it saying when people sit together and are wired apart? I admit it – I’m limited. Very limited. And that is no bad thing. It is a gift to be accepted.
And thereby we leave space for others: Proverbs 23:10; Luke 22:24-25
Whoever you are – if you have been following my posts, my prayer is that God will richly bless you, wired or unwired