Putting prayer and peace in my search bar when the digital buzz beckons
In My Father’s House / By Paul Moore
We’re in the supermarket. My wife has asked me to mind the cart while she checks something in another aisle. My first impulse is to look at my phone. I resist. I’m bored for a second. Then, I slowly become more conscious of the colors, people, and sounds around me. I remind myself to take a nice, deep breath.
Mary Louise comes back around the corner of the aisle. The moment’s over, and we’re off to the checkout.
Yet somehow, in that brief, gifted moment of taking a breath, I am refreshed. Coca-Cola once had the slogan “the pause that refreshes.” I think that slogan is the real thing (OK, I’ll stop now). While a carbonated drink is not necessary for this kind of peaceful pause, those little bubbles of uncommitted time are essential. Increasingly, I’m tempted to give them away to social media and the internet, drawn by the beckoning buzz of a notification, the pinball-like ping of a message “just for me.”
ATTRACTION TO DISTRACTION
The various gateways to the online world — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — exploit my terrible attraction to distraction, the urge to escape being alone in my own soul. When I’m feeling empty, the social media “feed” courts my appetite, but with what sort of calories?
For a regular diet, it is better to look to the example of St. Thérèse, “Whenever my soul is so dry that I am incapable of a single good thought, I always say an Our Father or a Hail Mary very slowly, and these prayers alone cheer me up and nourish my soul with divine food.”
One of my favorite places to find that comforting chord of peace is in church. I remember in my former parish there was a light that came through the stained-glass windows at 5 p.m. in late fall. The light would move slowly across the wall as Mass progressed, and I found my peace expanded as this temporary light hinted gently to me of the eternal.
Conversely, the World Wide Web constantly supplies me with information it knows I’m interested in at the expense of my peace and my broader perspective. If I click on a story about the Beatles to pass the time, more will pop into my news feed — interspersed with frequent ads — and suddenly I have no time left to pass.
It’s not about reading and learning; it’s about clicking and buying.
That’s why my wife and I were not permitted to join Facebook as a couple. The algorithm requires each member (consumer) to provide information (data) separately.
Moreover, through the influence of the almighty algorithm, social media has a structural tendency not to build bridges between people — which makes for imprecise marketing with blurry demographic lines — but to reinforce group identities in an almost tribal way.
DIGITAL AND DIVINE PROMISES
Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m not among those who view the web as an organized plot to own my soul. I simply think it is run by businesspeople out to make a buck or three. I do appreciate my enhanced ability to keep up with extended family and friends, especially the opportunity to offer encouragement to those going through tough times.
The challenge is with the addictive nature of the digital buzz. Once I enter that online tunnel, it can be awhile before I come up for air. One link leads to another. Before I know it, those golden nuggets of “spare” time are gone, and I’m behind the eight-ball of life once more.
The web promises “what you need to know” information on everything from A to Z, while time spent with Jesus delivers “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
When life pauses, I pray I’ll click on Christ.
PAUL THOMAS MOORE is a Catholic commentator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at email@example.com.