Repentance is So Hard!


A couple of weeks ago I misplaced my Fitbit. I was in a bit of a panic — how would I know how many steps I’d taken?  How would I know the quality of my sleep? How would I monitor my heart rate? It took me a couple of days to recall that I’d taken it off in a pub after Wednesday Bible Study(!). With a sigh of relief, I got it back.

Last week Pastor Bo challenged us to not use any electronics for an hour or two after we get up in the morning.  (Is the coffee grinder electronic or simply electric?) It was disorienting. Can’t check my Fitbit?  Can’t check my email?  Can’t turn on the morning news? I found myself standing in the kitchen, coffee in hand, wondering what to do now.

Years ago I heard James Hillman say that, “People without conscious ritual are prone to addiction”.  recovery.org says that, “Using substances is often closely associated with deeply ingrained rituals…In most cases, ritualized behaviors are unconscious.”

As a society, we are addicted to our electronics. Developers of electronic technology have mastered the art of hijacking and holding our attention.  They steer us in the building of unconscious rituals. I had been rather smug in thinking I had escaped this trap by turning off all the notifications on my phone, unsubscribing to all the political emails, avoiding facebook (with only temporary relapses), only to realize that I was still hooked. The worst part was that the minor rewards I got from my Fitbit, iPhone, TV, etc. left me (at best) feeling empty, hungry for more or (at worst) angry and discouraged.

Technology is not all bad if we use it mindfully. My Fitbit just prompted me that I had not walked 250 steps in the last hour so I got up and walked around the yard, soaking in the newly arrived sunshine, breathing in the fresh air, feeling my heartbeat, noting the hostas sprouting and tulips blooming, listening to the singing birds, sensing God’s presence in the springtime burst of renewed life.

It is hard work to turn around, to change direction, to “repent”.  It is hard work to recognize and turn away from our unconscious rituals.  The constant “noise” of technology is a poor substitute for quiet awareness of our own bodies, of the natural world of air and trees and flowers and birdsong. Unconscious rituals are poor substitutes for the Divine. It is hard work, but when I am able to break free of my addictions and open myself to God’s quiet presence I feel fulfilled and at peace, not empty and angry.

I know that the path to recovery is the building of intentional habits with regular spiritual practices — conscious rituals — of prayer and meditation, of making the bed and doing dishes,  of spending time in nature and in building deep relationships with people. But it is hard work.

Psalm 18:32 (New English Translation):

The one true God gives me strength;

he removes the obstacles in my way.

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