The 13th century Persian poet Mevlana, or more commonly known as Rumi, has a poem called Unseen Rain, where one of the stanzas reads “What I most want is to spring out of this personality, then to sit apart from that leaping. I’ve lived too long where I can be reached”. I do often wonder if we too, have lived too long where we can be reached.
When I came across this line, I felt my attention frozen somewhat, because I do personally feel that this is one of the greatest problems that affects all of us living in the era of the super-fast mass communication, aided by the advent and incessant use of the internet and the communication highways that we are on daily. Even if we are aware of its apparent drawbacks and negative impact to our soul, we are almost too deep into it to pull ourselves away from it to, as it were, recover from being too easily reached and to really rediscover our selves.
But I must begin by saying that there is a wonderful and positive side to the communication ease. In fact, this very blog that your eyes are reading through your computers or android phones is possible because of this information highway. Without it, there would be no blog, and nothing I have had to say would be read by people living halfway across the globe. The information superhighway has enabled us to gain so much more in terms of knowledge and to do research that hitherto would have taken a far longer time to complete. It allows us to communicate with ease and great economy with friends, loved ones and family who live thousands of miles away. It is so inexpensive to call my family members who live in Singapore from where I live in Washington DC that I can even call them just to check in on them daily, and to reassure them of my well being, and to get assurance of theirs, at the rate of about 2 cents a minute. It does make the world a much smaller place.
But having said that, I also believe that being too easily reached, as Rumi wrote, does have its downside, which we hardly reflect on. What amazes me is that Rumi wrote that in the 13th century, way before then advent of any form of advanced communication. He was not bewailing the speed of communication. What he was bemoaning was the fact that we human beings have a tendency to want to run or escape from things that give us depth, especially when we know that depth comes when one removes oneself from the noise and distraction that the world gives, whether one is immersed in the modern day helter-skelter world of gadgets and gizmos, or living in 13th century Persia. We have a certain allergy and hesitancy to reach our centre, and to come to love what is deepest inside of us.
I am currently reading a fascinating book entitled Poustinia – Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer by Catherine Doherty, the founder of the Madonna House Apostolate. It tells of the humble beginnings of this movement which tries to cater to the need for people to “stand still and allow the deadly restlessness of our tragic age to fall away like the worn-out, dusty cloak that it is”. No, she was neither a hater of modernity, nor an advocate against the cyber-age. But she was given a grace to see that we human beings share a certain yen for the search for God within, which the world without can easily block or remove from our consciousness.
In my Thomistic Seminar course that I am currently ploughing through, I am reminded once again that the aim of our moral and spiritual lives, which is not at all separated and distinct from our daily physical lives, is the final participation in God’s wisdom, where contemplation is reached. We forget this, and this is made even more easily forgotten when we only think that our world is about our work, our health, our families or our achievements. A whole lot of 'do, do, do', but very little 'be'. Not that these are bad in themselves, but our involvement in them need to lead us to appreciate where their geneses were from, and what they are leading us to. If God is not the reason and the answer for our 'doing', we may be in danger of losing our origins or our way back.
True, not many preachers speak convincingly of this enough. Perhaps it is because it necessarily means that the preacher himself is convinced of this, and it is a hard task – both to live and to witness to it. But if done well and celebrated well, the Liturgy of the Church itself speaks volumes about the need to displace ourselves from the centre of the universe. The very fact that we show up and participate despite our wanting to stay in bed; despite mouthing prayers that don’t particularly mean much to us personally that morning; praying for people who we don’t really know; bringing to our attention the “universal” church which is something that I can’t even wrap my mind around, in some ways, “forces” me to think outside of myself and make me a less selfish and self-centered person. I am not at Liturgy for myself. I am there for the ‘other’ that I cannot see, and this experience trains me to meet the great Other that I will one day see.
So, even if it is for a moment, or even an hour a day, it would be more than wise to go into ‘silent mode’, and appreciate God within, to, as Rumi said, go to where you cannot be reached. In that place, it is ultimately God who reaches us.