In the noonday,
I swung with might,
Sweaty brow, tightness of breath,
But could not hold the sun’s light.
When I was at rest
Only then was my face bright.
Stillness is better than motion.
A modern sabbath is enigmatic.
Today’s tyranny of convenience
Is a kinetic tyranny ticking away,
time flowing away, sand slipping away.
Be still, says God.
Only then will He be known
For he who toils for what cannot be earned
Must rest in order to receive what must be given
Our days are long, yet life short. We know the later, but are not aware of the former. Much of our days are necessarily filled with gifts of work, eating, and washing. The other remnants of our day are extensive in length, yet quickly filled with distraction. I have come to the awareness in the middle of life in my own dark wood that I also have strayed from the path. “How I entered there I cannot truly say.” For it has been a distracted straying, wandering in digital aimlessness, snickering and chuckling at I know not what. My straying has been wildly entertaining.
My days are not long, for if spare time falls by my side, flashing screens illuminate the clock away. Time is found, but it is time without vision, aimlessly engaged. By the end, I may feel like an accomplished knight on his errand as the credits roll, but I’ve mistaken windmills for giants, deceived in my most recent digital adventure but apathetic at best to this reality. For it is the tyranny of convenience that has fastened its chains over my wrists. Yes, the tyranny of convenience has become a ball and chain around my ankles - the tyrannical convenience of endless distraction.
Our days are long in their searching, in their quiet desperation for something more. Yet with our foreman as distraction, our attention is employed for the mostly trivial cheap memes and infinite scrolling. We work hard at this, sitting or laying, soft pillows behind as we become lost in the digital sea.
I say all of this by means of confession - confession of a modern technological addict. I understand humans as made in the image of God. Like an appliance without an outlet or a car without means of power, our human condition will always remain incomplete without God. God is mercifully infinite, no world could contain his fullness, his beauty greater than the imagination could scarcely grasp. “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Psalm 145:3). Yet, because of this tyranny of convenience, we remain employed in our distraction, seeking our completeness in its ocean. Yes, distraction is work, at least in the Kantian sense. We click, scroll, click scroll, consume the media with discernment, investigating and trying to deliberate the meaning of what we are watching, or its purpose, or the lack thereof. We work hard at distraction, even though the beauty and the glory of God himself is available to us.
This work is our very world. Josef Piper referred to our world as a world of “total work” in which knowing anything is now tied to work, and work has thus become the definition of the modern Western life as we seek out its meaning (Pieper, Leisure, Basis of Culture, pg. 8). He shows how this modern definition of work comes into stark friction with the Christian understanding of the contemplative life, in which medieval philosophers understood the intellectus, or the passive/receptive power of the human mind as crucial to the very processing of knowing anything. Says Pieper, “Human knowing as an element of the non-active, purely receptive seeing, which is not there in the virtue of our humanity as such, but in virtue of a transcendence over what is human, but which is really the highest fulfillment of what it is to be human, and is thus ‘truly human’ after all…” (ibid., pg. 12). Yes, we are in the image of God, after all.
To bring this to more understandable terms, consider the modern day convenience of media consumption. Human beings or AI have created endless forms of media about anything and everything under the sun, and it lies in a glass rectangle in our pockets, in reach at all times. Some of it can be meaningful, much of it is devoid of meaning but only exists to have our attention. Yet we do not consume it in a passive state. We’re actively engaged in this convenience, scrolling or clicking to the next image, our minds scarcely at rest.
Let’s consider for a moment if Pieper is correct. Let’s consider the reality that there is a crucial part of the learning and knowing process as a human being, perhaps the most important part, that must be non-engaged to know, not working to learn. What this means is that we are identifying something on the outside as crucially import, something that the most difficult part of receiving is finding the ability to be still enough in order to receive.
I believe most of us have been trained to pray as a worker. To bring to God an endless list of needs, working at our prayer, even hoping that our prayers could fill lengthier times to satisfy an inner desire for achievement, with loud cries and repetitive phrases. If God is indeed transcendent above our own frail and created reality, if he really is the uncreated one as the Scriptures testify to, is what I am calling the tyranny of convenience of endless distraction which we labor at trained us well to receive God in prayer?
What is there to learn of God that we haven't because we work too hard at it? What is there to learn of God that is available to us, only if we were still enough to receive it?
We see often Jesus escaping along to pray for the entirety of a night (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12). Do we consider this nocturnal prayer of Christ to be an endless stream of verbal utterances for hours on end? Or audible pleas mixed with a passive reception of God and his words within us? Of contemplation? Of passively opening his heart up to hear from God, for the violin of his own soul to be in concert with God’s own symphony? Scripture is full of wisdom that directs us towards such a posture.
“I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6). Who outstretches their hands if not to receive something? How can the psalmist’s thirst be quenched if he does not receive more of God’s crisp, purified water?
“But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
Christ offers water to us. Are we too busy asking him for it? Are we too trained in our distractions, too busy in prayer that our lips are not open for the living water Christ graciously wants to pour into our dry mouths?
What if the current generation of the Church in the West is simply too distracted and busy to know the wonders of the glory of God in Christ Jesus? Is the answer to empty out our days from distraction, to learn to sit with God as one would a friend, listening and hearing and simply enjoying his presence?
I confess that I am tyrannized by the convenience of distraction. I want to know the riches and treasures of Jesus Christ, to be utterly transformed into a man of love, grace, truth and passion for his Kingdom and presence. I want a vision for my days, filled with more of God and less screen-flickering diversions.
“Be still” says God, “and know me.” To be still is the pathway for the knowledge of God. It is clear from the Scriptures that we cannot find God on our own, but rather know him because we are known by him in Christ Jesus (Matthew 11:27). The whole nature of the Good News is what God has done for us, and not what we have done for him.
Therefore, do you want to know more of God? Cease from working for what cannot be earned. Rest so you may receive him, who can only be given to us. This may be one of the greatest challenges of our time for spiritual formation. Yet I truly believe a wildfire of power and renewal awaits the generation who learns to rest and receive more of him.