Is modern technology making us stupid? That was the thrust of an article I read recently. The author argued that the amount of reading we do on a screen, rather than with physical books, is making us very prone to distraction and detracting from our ability to do “deep reading.” He contends that the illusion of being able to multi-task and the nature of modern media with its emphasis on links, ads, and other attention grabbers is slowly rendering us incapable of being able to truly read and focus at a deep level.
This fascinating article, which I read online! (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2010/06/20/INL91DU44K.DTL) never used the term lectio divina, the monastic practice of prayerful reading, but the application is clear. In his Rule St. Benedict provides for two to three hours a day of praying with Scripture. This was a practice of spending deep time with the text of Scripture, being open to listening to the Word of God. Benedict doesn’t assume that this focused listening and reading is easy, he knows it is not. But it is essential to the life of a monk. To truly undertake the spiritual journey, to walk the narrow path of the Gospel we have to be willing to do the hard work of being still, open, listening and responding to this voice of God in our life.
This is an invitation to all of us today, monastics as much or more than anyone. It is easy to spend hours a day looking at a computer screen, a TV, a cell phone or any other of the myriad distractions we have at our disposal. It is hard to be still, to try and quiet the incessant chatter of our thoughts, to face our deepest fears and longings that we try to anesthetize ourselves with distractions.
Perhaps the key paradox of the spiritual journey for modern people is that the hardest work is to not work so hard. Reading from screens, whether computers, iPads, cell phones or anything else, and the distractions that come with them, is simply a symptom of our busyness. We easily pride ourselves on how busy we are, using this as a measuring stick of our importance. We can judge others and ourselves by our level of activity. What would we think of someone who took Benedict at face value and spent two or three hours a day in deep contemplation of Scripture? Chances are we would castigate that person for being a slacker and wondering how he or she could get away with not doing enough “real” work.
But that is probably precisely our problem. The work we tend to wrap ourselves up in, the frenetic activity we engage in, is not real work, it is usually a distracting illusion that keeps us from the real work of transformation. Real work is the slow, hard work of cultivating the soil of our soul. The deep reading of lectio divina, taking the time and discipline to allow the Word of God to permeate the clay of our soul is the work that matters.
So I am writing this on a screen and you will read it on a screen. There will be distractions, and pictures and links, but perhaps, for a period of time during the day we can all unplug and spend some time alone with the printed Word that will needs to be written on the page of our hearts.