Sunday, January 21, 2018

Diversions And Devotions: A Sunday Rumination

     As has been the case rather often lately, I was casting about for something over which to waste a few minutes – that’s actually the subject of this piece, so keep it in mind – when I stumbled over the following video:

     It’s one I’d seen before. (I’ve even embedded it before.) And as one who roundly and passionately hates “smartphones” and everything they’ve brought among us, when I first saw it, I appreciated it greatly.

     Greatly...but not completely.

     I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I write these Ruminations principally for myself. They’re reflections on my own convictions and habits. If others get something of value out of them, I’m pleased, but first and foremost I’m speaking to myself – telling myself something I ought to have known.

     I don’t have many talents. During my wage employment days I was an expert software architect and developer. At one time I was a pretty good guitarist. I fancy that I can tell a fair to middling story, when the spirit is upon me. And I make good tuna casserole, excellent tomato sauce, and a killer meatloaf.

     That’s the FWP catalog. Those are all the things I can do even passably well. But I haven’t been doing any of them lately, and I’ve begun to wonder why.

     “Why” mechanistically is easy to determine: I spend far too much time on diversions. Reading other writers’ stories. Watching movies and sporting events. Scanning the Web for interesting items I can write about here. And of course, writing about them here.

     While I’m doing any of those things, I can’t do any of the things I do from which others might derive some value. Neither can I do any of the things that would bring me some added value. I’ve been diverted from them.

     That, of course, is what diversions do. We seek them out specifically to take our minds off other things. That’s not inherently bad, but the downside to it is a good parallel to the practices of smartphone addicts.

     I’m trying to come to grips with just how much diversion is good and necessary, and at what point it becomes something negative, an actual aversion to life.

     The following might seem a swerve to a separate, disconnected topic. It isn’t.

     I once prayed five decades of the Rosary every day. I did so while I drove to work. When I retired I managed to continue the practice for a little while. However, being at the wheel of my car, fending off the terrors of the Long Island traffic system in my most dashing style, was too closely linked to the practice. After a few weeks, the Rosary slipped off my daily agenda.

     Mind you, that wasn’t something that simply had to happen. I could have kept on as I’d been doing. Hell, I could have sat in my car in the garage, hands tight upon the wheel, and perpetuated it that way...assuming that not being in danger of immediate gory death wasn’t integral to the discipline. More to the point, I knew I was allowing an important element of my prayer life to lapse.

     I knew I should get back to praying the Rosary. I tried to work it back into my daily routine by scheduling it: At 11:30 AM, five decades. It didn’t work. I found too many reasons to slough it.

     No, not good reasons. Diversions. There was always something else to do that pulled my thoughts away from prayer.

     It was when I realized how easily – how willingly — I was being diverted from my previous course that I began to worry about myself.

     Contemporary American life is rich in diversions. There are innumerable pleasurable things any of us can do with our time. Not all of them are dangerous. Not all of them are terribly expensive. But they share a characteristic: while we’re engaged in any of them, we’re not doing something else.

     In truth, that’s the point of a diversion. We want to be diverted. We seek out diversions, and we immerse ourselves in them. But as Gavin McInnes notes in the video embedded above, there’s something else going on that we’re missing out on: life as lived.

     There’s a lot of life to be lived. Many chores to be discharged. Many skills to be acquired or sharpened. A lot of engagement with others. Diversions deflect us from those things. Sometimes the cost is greater than we know. Sometimes its magnitude is hidden from us for a long time, after which it’s too late to correct course.

     I’m still casting about for a way to get the Rosary back into my life as a regular practice. There are a few tricks left in my bag, and any one of them might do the job. But what’s become overwhelmingly obvious to me is how important it is that I be aware of when I’m allowing myself to be occupied by some frivolous, essentially meaningless diversion.

     That’s all for the moment, Gentle Reader. It’s time for Mass. May God bless and keep you all.

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