Thursday, March 10, 2011

No Distractions

The beginning of Lent seems an appropriate time to reprint a Catholic Exchange article I wrote more than a year ago. It was intended, originally, as a reflection at the beginning of a new year, but I think it serves as a Lenten reflection as well:


Reminders of the lack of the principles of Theology of the Body are around every corner. This morning I was struck in the face by one as I sat in the dentist’s chair. The hygienist had completed the herculean task of removing all of the tartar from my teeth, and I was simply waiting for the dentist to inform me that I was cavity-free.

As I was waiting, the hygienist, in all of her sweetness asked if I wanted anything.

“No, thank you,” I replied.

“What about a magazine?” she inquired.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Do you want your purse, so you can text?” she asked with a smile.

“No, thank you. I’m okay.”

Her final question moved me to answer that it’s sometimes good to have time with no distractions. And that’s when I was reminded that today’s culture is always looking for a distraction. From flipping between stations in order to watch two football games at the same time, to texting (or pretending to text) to avoid unwanted social interactions, to needing one’s headphones to be surgically removed rather than be parted for a few moments from one’s iPod, there is plenty of noise to fill everyone’s lives.

But is there quiet?

As a commuter in Washington, DC, on my way to work and to grad school, I am continuously struck by the sea of newspapers, bobbing heads to one’s iPod, and Metro-riders’ amazing ability to continue reading a book while boarding and exiting the train. When I arrived in the nation’s capital, I was ready to use every spare second of my commute in studying.

God had other plans. It only took about five minutes on the Metro to realize that any type of reading, writing, or activity would ignite my motion sickness. There I was with an hour a day in which I could accomplish nothing.

Then it struck me. I have a built in hour to think, to pray, to just be. Rather than schedule in a rosary, or plug in my headphones, I decided to leave my commute as an open block of time in which nothing would be scheduled. It’s time I have to contemplate, to wonder at my surroundings, to pray for the woman across the aisle who is silently crying, or for the young boy who looks like he’s had a rough time at school. It gives me time to rest.

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is first about receiving. If we aren’t able to exist in a relationship with God in which we first receive ourselves from Him, then we won’t know the first thing about giving. The problem is we don’t build in time to just listen to Him and rest in Him.

In a speech to youth in New Orleans in 1987, John Paul II said,

"Prayer can truly change your life. For it turns your attention away from yourself and directs your mind and your heart toward the Lord. If we look at ourselves, with our limitations and sins, we quickly give way to sadness and discouragement. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, then our hearts are filled with hope, our minds are washed in the light of truth, and we come to know the fullness of the Gospel with all its promise and life."

Whether it’s the newspaper on the Metro, the radio in the car or texting at the dentist’s office, there are plenty of distractions to go around. The question at the beginning of this new year is – how will you make time to receive all that God has to give you, and in turn, be able to give yourself to others?

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