From the time when my generation invented rock and roll (well we did), I have been fascinated with “the media.” Good “films,” HBO, the New York Times. (Okay, so a truthful list would also include People magazine, “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Mad Men”. I even taught a class on advertising and popular culture at Blake and wrote a book about movies, for heaven’s sake… How into it can you be?
Maybe it was the last election and the abuse that led up to it with the hateful political ads, but I’ve just stopped for a while. I’ve cut way back on the television news. I’ve turned off the car radio. No more “Good Morning America” while I’m getting dressed in the morning. I’ve edited everything off my Netflix list that isn’t British (a definite quality-control move).
Last week my daughter Emily – an intense Randy Moss fan—said, “I’ve given up on the Vikings.” And I replied that “I’ve given up on government”—at least for a while. Time out.
And guess what? I’m feeling somewhat calmer, less hyped up. Other things fill my head than repetitive news accounts, celebrity gossip, tips on getting ready for Christmas when Halloween is barely past, and even public radio’s interviews with people who aren’t that interesting to me. It’s quieter in my house, in my car, in my head, and I think I like it. I’m more conscious.
Psychologist Carl Jung once remarked, “The reason why consciousness exists, and why there is an urge to widen and deepen it, is very simple: without consciousness things go less well.”
That’s for sure. Being swept along on the latest media craze or fad almost against your will is maddening (I don’t even want to know what Twitter is but I do. I don’t want to be able to repeat the lyrics for annoying commercials in my head, but I do. This stuff seeps in.)
Of course, there are comforting and painful aspects to increased consciousness. Without “Good Morning America” numbing my senses in the morning – or stinging them with yet another heart-stopping tragedy – I notice more things: the peacefulness of the kitty lying on her back in the patch of sun on the carpet; the “Babette’s Feast” movie poster I just got for my kitchen and how happy it makes me; how good it feels not to have to rush to get to a job I’ve outgrown; people walking their dogs (have you ever seen a dog being walked who wasn’t wagging its tale? I’m doing a study….) I fantasize about being with animals full-time in my next incarnation….
It’s not all fun, however. The painful thoughts crowd in: The disappointments that still darken the corners of my life; the losses too many to count; a persistent sense of failure.
A preeminent Jungian scholar, James Hollis – whom I make time to read every day now – says that the question for the first half of life is: “Do we have enough energy, courage, and resourcefulness to enter the world, take on its demands, and create our own conscious place in it?”
For the second half of life, the question becomes: “Who now, apart from the roles you play, are you? What does the soul ask of you now?” He goes on, “The whole second half of life calls us to a spiritual agenda, while maintaining one’s participation in the social community.”
These last questions are ones I am asking myself a lot at this point in my life: Who am I – besides a mother, grandmother, friend, and clergy-person? Who am I when I’m not doing anything? What images guide my life: Twice-divorced person with all the baggage that carries? Cancer survivor – with the inevitable fear that goes with that? Preacher-teacher? Arts lover?
The spiritual question, however, is what is God calling me to right now? What does God want me to notice? To do? To change? To keep the same? To appreciate? To love?
We all face these questions, and once we know the answers to them, all the pieces seem to fall into place. Don’t they always, when it finally becomes clear what you’re supposed to do?
Until the next time God decides to move you forward…
When you work in a church, you are in touch with a wide community, the joys and also the suffering that pervades it. I’ve come to appreciate anew the truth that no one has a suffering-free life. Jesus certainly didn’t.
But there are two types of suffering, Hollis says. One is the type that authenticates your values and beliefs. For example, Jesus staying true to his deepest truths about God, himself, and the unconditional importance of justice and love, even to the horror of the Cross. Or ourselves – torn apart by a loss or illness, but fighting to remain loving and hopeful instead of bitter. This is authentic suffering.
Or there is the type of suffering that comes from living inauthentically –ignoring our core values: being in a job that exploits others; conspiring in our own diminishment; continuing to ignore our screaming conscience (conscience = conscious, get it?) and its cries for change.
I invite you to make one change for Advent (might as well start now) to become more conscious: Break your dependence on the media in one specific way (car radio off for three days a week; cell phone off an hour a day; limit exposure to the popular culture in some other way that would impact your life). As someone once told me, spirituality without any discipline or intentional practice is Spirituality Lite. And the culture gives us plenty of Lite. Meanwhile, God is working his purpose out. Tune in.
See you in church.
Extra credit question: what is the difference between Lite and Light? Think about it and be amazed…