Much has been written about how the social media has been instrumental in causing humanity to be obsessed with capturing events and moments in pictures and letting the whole world know what is going on in one’s life. It is almost laughable that anyone would be vaguely interested in what one is eating, where one is going, and what one is wearing, and yet, this lie is being believed and many are taking this, hook, line and sinker.
This obsession really does interrupt life as it should be lived and celebrated. Before one can fully enjoy the moment like a meal or a gathering, the ubiquitous phone is reached for and poses are struck, or some direction is given on how much light is needed to be cast on the plate, and how the shot should be perfectly framed. Whenever I am in such company, I keep silent and politely observe what is going on, and try to imagine the satisfaction that can come out of such an exercise. I have come to certain conclusions that it does stem from something in our DNA that makes us not want to forget or lose the sense of happiness or contentment that is before us, and the most charitable part of me becomes softened to say that at some level, we do hesitate to be fully immersed in almost anything in life, be they moments of joy and happiness, or sadness and sorrow.
In the event of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, we see a glimpse of this in Peter’s reaction to what was unfolding before him. We are told he wanted to pitch tents right there and then to, as it were, freeze or contain the moment in some way, rather than let the moment form and teach him. Peter’s reluctance to not master over the moment reveals that reluctance or inability in us to fully live out these poignant moments of our lives. Joyful moments are not fully immersed into and cause us to want to re-create them later in our older years when we may have had them before but were too busy trying to make the moment last. In a strange but similar way, aren’t many of us in a hurry to rush past the pains and sorrows of our lives, where we don’t take time enough to mourn the passings of our loved ones but are more interested to get back to ‘normal’ life? We only know this when later on in life, we realise that the vacuum or ache that throbs in our hearts are for mournings and deep weepings that we were too keen to have them forgotten with premature immediacy.
Scripturally, we see this difference in two groups of people who encounter Jesus in their daily living, in moments where God’s presence is breaking into this world in the actions of Jesus. Often, we are told by the evangelists that the crowds would be ‘amazed’ at what Jesus either had done or had said to them. This is contrasted with the way another group– which ‘pondered’. Fr Rolheiser makes this contrast clear in his book ‘Sacred Fire’ in what must be a great insight into the spiritual life, and in so doing, guides the reader who is sincere in wanting to make greater inroads into spiritual maturity.
Amazement is not a quality that shows a depth of spirit. One is amazed at a magician and his legerdemain skills. One can be amazed with another’s eloquence and sharp wit. One can easily be amazed at what tantalizes the tastebuds and be dazzled by the kaleidoscope of colours emitted from a Lazare-cut diamond. Amazement doesn’t necessarily cause us to enter into the morality of what is before us, because it works at the surface level. Amazement takes on the energy of the group that is around us, perhaps even where there is an energy of spontaneous emotion and we hardly act on it, but just let the frenzy breeze right through us. Crowds hardly think, though there is the oxymoron ‘crowd mentality’ that causes groups to act out of a blind energy.
The other group that doesn’t just get caught up in amazement but enters deeper into mystery is exemplified by Zechariah and Mary where no immediate answers are given, yet they are either cast into a necessary silence or voluntarily step into the mode of pondering. It deserves to be repeated over again that Mary’s position of standing under the cross of Jesus at his crucifixion is an image that is so pregnant with depth of pondering, where there are no screamings and rantings for answers, nor is there a need to run away and hope that it was only a nightmare and not real. A strong heart and a steely will to do the will of God was displayed by this seeming silent action of merely standing under the cross. It opens the heart to a virtue that is born of a patient waiting and allowing.
My encounters with many parishioners reveals that many of them are somewhat reluctant to willingly enter into a serious pondering of their lives. It takes a certain grace for one to want to go for a retreat where there are large opportunities to enter into a silent mode, so that one can meet the God of silence without distractions, to ponder deeper, and not just be entranced and distracted by what may amaze us momentarily. Just as Jesus revealed it to Peter after the resurrection that it is when he is older that he will have a belt put around him and take him to where he would rather not go, this is also an indication to those of us who seriously want to be disciples of Christ that it is to this silence that we need to enter willingly into if we are to reach any depth of spiritual maturity.
Otherwise, we may just end up merely taking spiritual snapshots and be contented to make biblical facebook postings of the life that we live. Indeed we may in fact be very reluctant to live each moment fully enough, and being present enough. Living like that may not give us much in terms of being able to live with stretched and expanded hearts.