For the Life of the World

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The Orthodox Ministry, Come Receive the Life, has two podcast programs on the Sanctity of Life. The first is an interview with Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, the second is an interview with Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News, a relatively recent convert to Orthodoxy (I met him the week after his Chrismation), also on the topic of the Sanctity of Life. I commend both interviews to you.

One Response to “For the Life of the World”

  1. ioannisfreeman Says:

    Father Stephen brings us to many ideas and many authors. Glory to God.

    Ron Dreher’s column on the Feast of the Theophany (06 January 2008: The Dallas Morning News) this year addresses the isthmus between data and wisdom. Anyone who crunches numbers to distill statistical inferences with large data sets is a fool not to seek after wisdom as Ron Dreher conveys the story of wisdom in this column. Facile conclusions about inferential statistics wreaks havoc, and all too many prefer havoc from data over wise contemplation. May God in mercy draw more journalists into the Holy Faith, and of these journalists, to inspire columns such as the one attached.

    “I resolve to forgo data for wisdom” by Ron Dreher (Dallas Morning News columnist)

    I’ve become too inundated with information to stay focused for long

    10:01 AM CST on Sunday, January 6, 2008

    “Dad, you sure haven’t been using your exercise machine much,” my annoyingly observant son said the other day. He put the boot in by patting my belly.

    I might have pointed out to him that it’s hard to get to the device with all his 8-year-old boy junk draped all over the thing. Perhaps I’ll mention it to the lad when I let him out of the cupboard under the stairs.

    Anyway, I celebrated, if that’s the right word, the new year by making a resolution, then climbing back on my underused elliptical trainer to begin the miserable journey of a thousand miles back to a respectable pants size. And, for good measure, I also returned to my morning habit of rising early enough to pray while the house is still quiet (though the plaintive scratching from beneath the stairwell is enough to distract a fellow as undisciplined as I from his matins).

    This is a good thing. Or to be more precise, it will be a good thing, once I get back into the rhythm of daily spiritual and physical exercise. I never feel better, more confident or more attuned than when I’m in that groove. But if the discipline of routine prayer and exercise is so rewarding, why is it so hard for me to stick to?

    True, you can never say enough about the awesome power of sloth. But the gist of my problem is more particular, and thoroughly modern: I’m too inundated with information to stay focused on any one thing for long.

    When I wake up, it takes monumental powers of resistance to keep from checking my e-mail. More often than not, I fail. And then, well, while I’m at the computer, why not peek at the headlines and maybe post a quick blog item? And, by the way, what are my favorite bloggers writing this morning?

    And so forth. You can kill an hour like this without blinking. That’s not all you kill.

    I don’t watch much TV, but time spent at the computer is still time spent passively in front of a lighted screen. Well, not exactly passively; after all, I do read, e-mail, blog and gather nontrivial information. (Though one’s definition of “nontrivial” deserves skepticism; is the up-to-the-minute dispatch from the presidential horse race really all that important?)

    But it’s not the same thing as reading a book, which requires extended concentration, as opposed to the head-jangling, hippity-hopping from e-mail to blogs to YouTube to news media Web sites that characterizes the online experience.

    In fact, I find it more difficult than ever to stick with a book. It’s usually the case that I’m reading three or four at any time and rarely finish any of them. I have this sneaking suspicion that working and living in an intensive, online information environment is not only compromising my ability to stick to offline disciplines like prayer and exercise, but my ability to read and think deeply.

    Fifteen years ago, I quit my Washington journalism job and moved for the winter into an old country house in south Louisiana, where I lived alone, in an enveloping silence. No TV, no computer, no newspaper, no neighbors – the closest thing to a monastic life I’ll ever know.

    The first two weeks of that just about drove me crazy. But then I started to notice something. My mind stilled. I could sit and read a single book for hours. I developed a real prayer life and began to learn the art of patience, of listening, of focus. It was a time of real sweetness, clarity and peace.

    Later, when I returned to my Washington newspaper, I vowed that I would tender with me the lessons learned in the great silence. Ha.

    A journalist friend in L.A. writes with news of his MySpace page and to ask about mine. I don’t have one and don’t plan to. “Are you serious?” he writes. “Every journalist I know has one. It’s a great way to keep in touch with people.”

    See, that’s my problem: I’m too in touch with people. I can’t keep up with my daily e-mail. I can’t stay on top of all the information I get online and via the news media from people all around the world. And I can’t stop mainlining news and information, because after all, it’s not only my job but my passion.

    I am becoming the ideal 21st-century American: a soft-bellied physical slacker who knows everything going on right this very second but understands less and less of it. Information is not the same thing as knowledge, and “data” is not a synonym for “wisdom.”

    Cultural critic Bill McKibben once wrote that turning on a television (he might have said a computer, too) “obliterates the three rarest commodities of our age: silence, solitude, darkness.”

    Sitting alone in my living room, fingering a prayer rope in the noiseless pre-dawn Tenebrae and fighting against irresolution and a compulsion to turn on, log in and drop out of reality by immersing myself in its electronic simulation, I know just what he means.

    Gotta remember to drop him an e-mail to tell him so.

    Rod Dreher is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. His e-mail address is rdreher@dallasnews.com.
    Print E-mail this article Forums

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