Worship at Atonement
So, Ash Wednesday is upon us, along with the season of Lent. Maybe you think you’re spending too much time on Facebook, checking Twitter too often, looking at all the cool pics on your Instagram. Many of us think Lent is a great time to give up sweets, drinking, certain foods, or shut off all of our social media. “Give up” Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This month, thanks to Jesuit Jake Braithwaite, here’s a new suggestion - Do Nothing.
Jake writes, I’m really interested in the way technology has warped our relationships with our true selves. I’m talking about the selves that show up when we’re all alone, in front of God, no masks. Because we’re liable to be “on” at all times, we rarely take a moment to be still. We’re loathe to take a moment to know God and to let God know us.
He cites a book by Jenny Odell called “How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.” Odell describes a world where “every last minute” ends up “captured, optimized, or appropriated as a financial resource by the technologies we use daily.” But in the midst of push notifications and likes and friend requests, a “certain nervous feeling, of being overstimulated and unable to sustain a train of thought, lingers.”
As you contemplate what you might “give up” for Lent, and before you decide to give up chocolate, soda, or french fries, or even Facebook, I encourage you to take Odell’s advice: do nothing. Rather than optimize your Lent with a waistline conscious fast or a bold test of your willpower, simply take time each day to do nothing. Sit before the Lord, let God marvel at you as you marvel at God. Maybe even while you’re eating french fries.
In our lives as Gregorian Friars, we learn quickly in Religious life when we are forced to take more time outside of our routines to pray. The Daily Office, a steady round of Morning Prayer, Noonday, Evening Prayer, and Compline, each day, becomes an integral part of each day. We learn to hear God’s voice because the noise has been turned down. As friars, “in but not of the world,” it’s more than a little difficult to not block out God’s voice with
the distractions–parties and TV watching, social media, to-do lists, podcasts and music and movies and shows and idle fretting about work—those were - and still can be - many of mine and my confrere’s preferred methods. Instead, we learn that it’s just that we had to be present to exactly what we were feeling at each moment. To be still and listen to what God is saying.
As Jake says, I encourage you this Lent to do nothing. Odell recognizes that “the pitfalls of the attention economy can’t just be avoided by logging off and refusing the influence of persuasive design techniques.” Instead, wander through your neighborhood. If you feel the urge to document the walk, don’t judge yourself but simply ask why. Am I posting to connect or am I posting to show off? Does the impulse stem from aliveness or from loneliness? Most importantly, create the space in your life where God’s voice won’t be drowned out by a thousand other things. You don’t need to optimize each moment. You don’t need to listen to a podcast while you walk to work. You don’t need to check emails while you work out. You don’t need to watch television while you eat dinner. Do nothing, or at least, do ONE thing.
In the Book of Kings, Elijah expects to hear the voice of God in the wind, in an earthquake, in a fire, but instead hears God in a small voice. So, too, with you. God is calling to you in a small voice. You need to turn down the rest of the noise in your life in order to hear. This Lent, turn it down by doing nothing, and listen.
Br. Ronald A. Fox, BSG, ThM