Feeling overwhelmed by the speed of life? M. Rex Miller, (The Millennium Matrix – Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church) identifies seven qualities to describe the dynamics of our present world. He lists the qualities, which are inherent in digital age media, as interconnection, complexity, acceleration, intangibility, convergence, immediacy, and unpredictability. These seven qualities, largely absent from the Biblical world, are directly affecting the life of our churches and the life of our souls.
I want it. I want it now. And by gum, I’m gonna get it!
Let’s look at one of Miller’s qualities, immediacy. “The time it takes us to absorb and adjust to digitally paced activities grows ever shorter. As the interval between question and answer, request and fulfillment, grows narrower, we are asked to respond to the world with an immediacy similar to that required by fighter pilots in combat… where high speeds require the F16 fighter to master a different set of rules for decision making.” Miller quotes Colonel John Boyd as he asks the question, “How do we function in an environment where reality leaves us little or no time for reflection but ‘changes ceaselessly, unfolding in an irregular, disorderly, unpredictable manner,’ despite our vain attempts to ensure the contrary?”
The disembodied voice at the drive-through chirps, “Which of our twenty four different topping combinations for your pizza would you like today? If you order in the next five seconds you may get your choice of a quart sized cooler, air freshener, or five dollars off your drink order. What would you like for dessert today? We have eight new shake flavors and are offering a special on our smoothies. If you buy two you get one free. Would you like to try our hot apple pie? Oh, sorry we know longer carry hamburgers.”
The quality of immediacy precludes a contemplative, thoughtful approach to our experience and our desires. The lapse between awareness of a desire and its fulfillment is potentially much briefer. Does twenty four hour access to the global market begin to render delayed gratification and patience obsolete? If I want or need something- a conversation, some information, a consumer good or service, a relationship, something to eat – I want it fast. I want it now. And very often I can get it.
Digital immediacy leaves little or no breathing space between desire and fulfillment, event and response. We do not have time to absorb, savor and reflect upon our experience. To consider broader implications and what God might be saying to us will only hold up the line and irritate the person waiting behind us. We find ourselves continually reacting to, being manipulated by, or attempting to protect and shelter ourselves from the immediacy of our environment.
Are we to mindlessly adjust to this reality, as a lobster in a slowly warming pot of water, and hence be transformed by it into somebody’s supper? Do we need to learn like the fighter pilot how to respond with greater precision and accuracy to ceaseless rapid change? Or do we have something to bring to the immediate digital age from the tradition of reflection, thoughtful consideration, and listening? Might people of faith draw on a different resource than a fighter pilot’s highly tuned nervous system and hyper responsive physical abilities?
An Antidote for Immediacy
An ancient spiritual practice can restore your balance and perspective. Wisdom from a deeper, truer source than the twenty four news cycle can shape our lives. The examen was developed and taught by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order. In recent years the examen has found popularity among people of many faiths. In its simplest form it consists of a daily examination of your experience, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s presence and activity in your day. The examen is based on the assumption that God speaks to us through our deepest feelings and yearnings, or consolations and desolations. Consolations are things that satisfy and unite us with others, God, and creation in love, hope, and peace. Desolations are negative feelings – anxiety, fear, despair, anger, which tend to isolate us from ourselves, others, and God.
Here are some questions for your examen as presented in my favorite book on the subject, Sleeping with Bread – Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Michael Linn.
For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?
There are many other ways to ask the same questions:
When did I give and receive the most love today?
When did I give and receive the least love today?
When did I feel most alive today?
When did I most feel life draining out of me?
When was I happiest today?
When was I saddest?
What was today’s high point?
What was today’s low point?
This exercise pulls us out of the sucking vortex of immediacy to notice and name our internal reality. What is giving me life and joy? What is diminishing my peace and serenity? Instead of knee jerk reactions to the demands of immediacy, we stop to consider what is moving us closer to the way of God, and what seems to be drawing us away from the qualities of holiness. We begin to see a thread, a direction for our lives, and a sense of God’s activity and call to us.
The Immediacy of God
The digital age did not invent immediacy. That rapid connection between thought and fulfillment, need and satisfaction is a quality of the divine. Scripture describes God as accessible, present, alive, and more immediate than the air we breathe. Wisdom 7:24 captures this immediacy of God with the words: Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.
The examen, practiced over time, connects us with a Divine Immediacy more compelling, and satisfying than the life sucking immediacy of our digital age. It gives us direction for our life choices and gentles us into conforming with the will of God. In Divine Immediacy we discover the spacious and timeless grace of the present moment, in which we receive all we need. Right here. Right now.
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