An Encouraging Word 2-23-12

It’s time to go to the desert

Father J. Ronald Knott

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert where he remained for forty days. Mark 1:12

Yesterday, we opened the holy season of Lent, receiving ashes as an outward sign of our willingness to get serious about conversion of life.

Over the next five weeks, using the Sunday readings of Lent, I would like to make the case that conversion of life requires that we go to the desert, go to the mountain, go to the well, go to the doctor and go to the grave to get the insights we need to be created anew.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Jesus invites us to go to the desert, an empty place where there is nothing to distract, a symbolic place of laser-focused attention.

If we are to be serious about conversion of life, we must first of all be willing to withdraw from the noise and pace of ordinary life once in a while in order to hear ourselves think and to receive direction from the Spirit.

Most of us cannot afford 40 days of “retreat,” heading off to some monastery or even to a secluded cabin in the woods. We have to “make do” with an hour here, an afternoon there or, if we are lucky, a whole day.

In preparing to write this column, I read a few articles about multitasking.  What they seemed to agree on is this: We all have an ever-present pressure of trying to cram more into each moment.

We are inundated with faster and faster gadgets to do more in a shorter amount of time. Ironically, the more we use such gadgets and the more we try to handle at one time, the more inefficient our brains become.

Multitasking is an illusion. There is evidence that our brains cannot concentrate on more than one complex task at a time. The more information our brains are forced to handle simultaneously, the more they slow down. Tasks take longer. Mistakes multiply.

Real efficiency is found in mono-tasking, not multitasking. For this very reason, more states have prohibited talking on cell phones and texting while driving.

What is even scarier is the theory that bombarding our brains with bursts of information is undermining our ability to focus. These bursts of information play into a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. This stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored. I know at least two younger priests whom I consider to be addicted to technology gadgets.

I noticed an advertisement on TV the other day that captures the spirit of “going to the desert.”  Chevy Trucks has a commercial with “the guys” going deeper and deeper into the woods until they finally get a “no signal” on their cell phones. With that, they let out a yelp of delight.

It’s time to go to the desert to re-learn how to be fully present to ourselves, to each other and to God.

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