Monday, 7 April 2014

Some Grapes in the Desert. We’re Almost There.

By John D. O’Brien, S.J. 


Thus begins the final week of Lent, at least before the drama of Holy Week. Courage, dear friends. It’s the last lap, the final round. We’re at the point in the sojourn when we just.want.to.get.to.Canaan. It’s when Lenten penitential observances start to wobble. We sneak-spoon some ice cream. We watch part of a hockey game. We go on Facebook for just a quick look. No worries, the Lord loves us anyway. But fortitude, friends, fortitude.

I think it’s time for some morsels of joy, some Lenten pick-me-ups, some manna in our First World desert. Hence, I’m taking stock of some points of delight that have struck me in the past seven days or so. As St. Ignatius writes, “love consists in a mutual sharing of goods… hence if one has knowledge, he shares it… and so also if one has honors, or riches.” Of the latter two I have very little, but here are a number of consolandi – consoling things  – I happen to have learned.

First, that there is an excellent program in Canada for young adults wanting extensive faith formation, healing and growth, or vocational discernment in a community environment. The St. Therese Institute, based in Bruno, Saskatchewan, offers a nine-month immersion in Catholic spirituality, a blend of Catherine Doherty, Theresian and Ignatian flavours, with the mentorship of wise and learned instructors. The program is post-secondary (for ages 18-35), and although it is not primarily an academic institution, its courses are already recognized for transfer credit by some colleges. I had enjoyed their hospitality some five years ago during my Ignatian pilgrimage across Canada. This year I enjoyed teaching a week-long course on Ignatian discernment, and found the students thoughtful, delightful, sober and alert. They are great basketball players and spontaneous skit dramatists too.

Second, the insights of two completely different articles, which nonetheless point to a fundamental truth. In a recent article in The Globe and Mail called “Digital Overload: how we are seduced by distraction”, correspondent Erin Anderssen wittily and compellingly calls us out on our “unchecked infomania”. While we are probably now aware that internet use is a dopamine-releasing activity – hence its addictive quality – did you know about the phenomenon of screen apnea? Apparently we hold our breath when online, which is useful when hiding from tigers in the jungle, but leads “to long-term stress and its potential risks: teeth-grinding, diabetes, heart disease and depression.” We are drowning in our data. Many emperors get disrobed in this piece.

How is this supposed to be an upper? Well, it’s a great summary update to what I researched for my masters thesis on the need for silence in the digital age, but personal interest aside, it dovetails nicely with the call for a recovery of Christian mysticism in a second article. A group of monks argue here that the New Evangelization will only succeed if it is grounded in authentic experiences of the transcendent, mysticism which is for everybody. It's about relating to God in the deepest level of our being. There are strong vigorous Christian ways of doing so, but they need to be replenished from their sources.  “Monasteries,” they write, “are thus essential to the New Evangelization.”

Thirdly, this little dog, who is not discouraged by his particular weakness, and perseveres to the end. Let's not be discouraged by our weaknesses.

Finally, while wandering the wilderness of Lent (spiritual) or of post-modern society (cultural), I believe the call to “look up” from our screens and our selves is essential, because our redemption is drawing near. But before you do, check out this one final morsel of delight. If music be the food of love, play on, sisters, play on. It will get us to the heavenly banquet.

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