Thursday, June 15, 2006

Restless Thoughts

Thanks to a top-notch discussion by Bill Edgar, I've been re-launched into thoughts on Sabbath rest. Take my advice and carve out an hour of your life to listen to this lecture. What he says about our culture and life on earth is so TRUE and GOOD. Just click on the link below:

A Theology of Entertainment

Edgar talks about what Pascal calls the diversionary life, an existance in which everything is engineered to foster our discontent. Pascal posits that all evils stem from our inability to stay at home; that is, our propensity to wander. For him, to err in the moral sense and the physical sense are inextricably linked. I am not willing to completely buy into that argument. While I agree that human nature has always been restless - "till we find our rest in Him" (dear old Augustine) - I think the urge to physically wander can certainly be a symptom of (or metaphor for) spiritual unrest, but it might just be an evening walk to strech your legs. It could be both (cf. Jacob's tussle with an angel after a midnight stroll).

What is so extraordinary about Pascal's thoughts in this area ("Pensees"), is how prophetic they were. His observations seem much more akin to the problems of our day than anything I can imagine from his. From blogs to cell phones, multiple email addresses to TV, ads to US Weekly... the means of diversion stretch on ad infinitum. As Bill Edgar points out, the irony of these recent technological developments is that they are supposedly for COMMUNICATION'S sake, and yet they seem rather to hinder profound, or even decent conversations between people.

And you know, he's right. In order to aside the time to talk with a friend over a glass of wine, our busy schedules force us to play "phone tag" - one of the saddest forms of non-communication around - in which we achieve no personal connection whatsoever, talking to one another's machines, hoping against hope that we'll somehow "connect" at some point. Technology is replacing humans at a frightening pace...


Ok. Settle down, Abbey. Technological advances are NOT evil. (This is perhaps the mistaken conclusion of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World? Maybe.) All the same, it follows that if Pascal was able to observe the dangers of restlessness, despite the fact that he did not have a blog to update, twenty emails to respond to, and his cell phone vibrating off the hook, then we indeed have a transhistorical problem on our bloody hands.

T.S. Eliot aptly describes the unhappy state of restlessness as:

Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs

"Distracted from distraction by distraction." From one TV show repeat to the next to the next. From one single-shot skinny latte to the next to the next. That's the bummer about diversion - we end up stuck in that cycle of semi-escape where nothing meaningful will do. We prefer apathetic fancies to meaning and concentration. No wonder we're always bored. Like C.S. Lewis says, we prefer making mud pies in our backyard, because we cannot imagine what a holiday at the beach means. What will save us from our endless diversionary mud pies?


Now, what THAT means remains to be unpacked.


the poet said...

Wonderfully mind tingling observations. Makes me a bit restless as I wait for the unpacking of rest. Does this condition of restlessness serve to drive us into the arms of the creator? Just curious.

abbey said...

As much as any fallen condition drives us to our true dependence on him. It seems to depend on the situation-you've got john Lennon singing:"I'll give you everything I've got for'lityle peace of mind",and yet I don't sense a whole lot of repentance, or moving from the stage of discontentedness with discontent to a desire to change. Bob Dylan, however, at least for a while there, was willing "change my way 'o thinkin'...make myself a different set 'o rules."

Anonymous said...