Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pruning Back

I was feeling pretty good about my decision to give up Facebook for Lent and to curtail my clicking around habit, and then the Pope announced he was going to resign, and the internet blew up. And I, like a big sucker, was sucked right back in. Ironic Catholic sums up my life with the headline Cyber Catholics Planning On Giving Up Facebook For Lent Thrown Into Existential Crisis:

New York, NY: Catholics worldwide planning on giving up social media this Lent--facebook, Twitter, and the like--are caught in an existential crisis now that Pope Benedict unexpectedly announced his resignation and the conclave to elect a new successor to St Peter will occur smack in the middle of Lent. 
"I announced it and everything," moaned Cynthia Madison, a 22 year old parishioner at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Manhattan.  "I mean, who am I supposed to get this news from now?  CNS?  EWTN?  C-freakin-NN?" 
"I have a headache," announced Gabriel Celano, another St Aloysius parishioner.  "I wanted to challenge myself and do something hard this Lent, but this is just impossible.  All my friends are vetting papabile on facebook.  I can't give that up, can I?  I mean...voice of the faithful and prayer and all that...I just...Oh man.  I really have a headache."   
"It's not technically Lent--so I'm thinking about fudging that resolve a bit," admitted Joshua Smith, a father of two from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the Bronx.  "Maybe if I do facebook via dial up.  I think that's pretty penitential, actually."
Others, who wished not to be named, admitted that they were considering foregoing facebook but putting Whispers in the Loggia up and setting up an automatic refresh every 15 minutes. Or giving up chocolate instead.

This has been the least productive day in the history of unproductive days, though I did think, when I first heard the news, about saying a rosary -- right before I settled down to read the reax from everyone and his Vatican correspondent.

I don't want to give up the internet completely, and the good and valuable friendships that I maintain through that medium. And I know that one of the reasons I shake the mouse almost every time I walk past the computer is the desire to feel connected -- to know that my friends are out there, and that they're having good conversations, and that even if I'm not participating in those conversations I benefit from them. But Lent is the time to take even good desires and turn them toward their ultimate source, God. To be honest, though, even my good yearning for companionship grows numb and is deadened when it is degraded into an endless longing for novelty and distraction. I'm reminded of what C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters of pleasures becoming tired habits:
As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, "I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked." The Christians describe the Enemy as one "without whom Nothing is strong".  And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that eh does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.
It's time to prune back drastically, before the pruning is done for me.

I suspect, actually, that this minor sacrifice may improve the quality of what time I do spend on the internet in Lent, as well as forcing me to concentrate my ever-wandering attention and to keep from even being tempted to be caught up in any drama du jour without first considering what I say. Maybe I'll actually turn out installments of Stillwater more than once ever three weeks without the option of clicking around the moment I feel stuck. What I really want, though, is for my longing for companionship to be subsumed into a longing for God, so that I may be more fully present in everything I do, whether in person or online (but not on Facebook, for Lent).

Still wondering what sacrifices you can make for Lent, especially if your life, like mine, is pretty easy? Bearing has an excellent and substantive post on taking up your cross.


Literacy-chic said...

Reading this excerpt from Screwtape, I think I should give up work. Nothing numbs me so thoroughly. Thinking about how to turn that over into something productive...

Jenny said...

Using Lent to prune media consumption has always been fruitful for me. I have a long commute to work and usually have the radio on. The talk, the music, the commercials, blah, blah, blah. Then at work, I have access to the Internet all day and lots of time to use it. The news, the blogs, the comments...

After awhile it almost all becomes noise. "Pleasures becoming tired habits" explains it exactly. I get thoroughly bored and yet don't turn away.

During Lents in the past, I have turned off the radio entirely in the car and limited which websites I could visit. It made room for silence in my mind. I felt completely refreshed after Easter and I found the pleasure in these luxuries again instead of bored by them.

bearing said...

I tend to tighten up my blog- and news-reading during Lent rather than give it up entirely. At this point, I feel like giving up on social media is akin to what refusing to return phone calls might have been fifteen years ago: unkind, because people can't reach you.

Sometimes I have done it by setting time limits for myself; it has been more fruitful to drag a bunch of blogs into a folder labeled "temporary embargo" and refuse to check them more than once a week.

The Holy Father can't possibly have meant for us all to do without news of the conclave, I am sure of it.

mrsdarwin said...

I'm not giving up the internet altogether! Just Facebook, which has been my particular timewaster, though I love the contacts. People know where to find me if they need to get ahold of me.

I certainly won't do without conclave news. I'll be glued to whatever internet source is streaming -- we don't have cable. Last time I watched CNN and Fox for days. This time, I guess I'll just refresh all day.

I really only read a few blogs daily -- my coolest Catholic array. Others I check more irregularly. A few I wouldn't mind giving up for Lent as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I use the internet way more than I need to, and you've given me some very good reasons for cutting back this Lent. :)

JMB said...

I don't give up media for Lent. I don't know, I think I'd miss too much about school and stuff going on around town. Instead, I make myself eat leftovers for lunch, the caveat being that I have to walk the dogs before lunch, which means instead of looking forward to lunch while walking dogs, I think about how unexcited I am to eat leftovers.

I used to listen to talk radio while walking the dogs, but I gave that up for Lent one year and never got back into the habit. So now my thoughts move to food, and it kind of sucks when you don't have a choice as to what to eat. OK so this was nothing about Facebook, but I wouldn't give that up. Maybe Words with Friends?

Josiah Neeley said...

The year after I came into the Church I decided to go big and give up all TV for Lent. That was 2003, which means that I pretty much ended up missing the Iraq War (or the initial invasion part, anyway).

Foxfier said...

I'm actually trying not to talk about what I'm giving up, unless something comes up where I directly have to; not because I think it's an important thing to do, but because it's a change that might work out well for me. We'll see!