I don’t usually pick up the newspaper and expect to be spiritually challenged. I expect to read the sports pages, check out the news (which is normally a repeat of what I already know from the internet) and look at the obituary section to see who has left us. Almost never am I spiritually challenged. Even if there is some religion in the news, it is not often spiritually challenging.
So I was unaware of what was coming when I innocently began to read an article in the “Arts” section! The article focused on the writer, Ann Pratchett. She is a fairly famous contemporary writer, although I do know that much about her. But that did not affect how challenging the article about her was going to be.
I should have known something challenging was coming when the article began with these words. “Ann Pratchett does not Tweet. She does not post on Facebook. She does not text, or even talk on her cellphone…” Normally if you were describing this kind of person, you would be describing an old monk or a very old person who is probably “out of it!” But she is neither. She was born in 1963, which makes her really young (compared to me!) and she is married, living in Nashville with her physician husband. So by all accounts, she should be normal!
Then I realized I was already tricked. I just defined “normal” to be any person who talks on a cellphone, texts, posts on Facebook and is on Twitter! Of course, most of the people I know do all four of these things. And I do many of them. And of course, I am normal and most of my friends are normal, so Ann Pratchett must be abnormal. I could have dismissed her if this were it. But I read on and was captivated by her reasoning.
I had to giggle when she was quoted to say, “I really regret even going on email. I consider it one of my biggest mistakes of my life. It’s this black hole...So, what, I’m going to expand on that mistake and go on Facebook?” I giggled again. That is spiritual wisdom, if I ever heard any. Spiritual wisdom is always clear about how we spend time and how thoughtful we are about the things we choose to give out attention.
Part of me wanted to stop reading the article and run away to my normalcy. But I was hooked. So I read on, only to confront this next spiritual Pratchett observation. She said, “the distractions of Twitter and the rest are like party chitchat, when the writing mind wants deep conversation, and the writing soul wants quiet and solitude.” Ugh, I think I spend too much time with “party chitchat!” I know I have a “writing mind” and a “writing soul.” These are just particular forms of being spiritual.
Every spiritual person has a similar kind of “mind” and “soul.” I know this and value its truth for who I am and want to be. But Ann Pratchett has challenged me in unexpected ways. Part of her challenge is innocently asking me whether there is a discrepancy between what I say I want and, then, how I spend my time?
The problem is not “party chitchat.” The problem is me! I am not going to give up email. I don’t plan to throw away my cellphone. In fact, I have a smart phone that can give me any spiritual material I might want to read. But it is I that more likely would choose to pull up some dribble---some party chitchat---on that phone.
Ann Pratchett’s spiritual challenge to me is not to be like her. I am always a bit suspicious of spiritual mimicry. The illusion of this mimicry is the assumption that if I give up Facebook (which I don’t have) and my smartphone, I will get a more profound “writer’s soul.” Rather her challenge to me is to become more attentive to how I spend time. After all, when God gives me a new day, it is only twenty-four hours. It is a gift, but a limited gift. My only real choice is to use it or abuse it.
Seldom do I think of myself as an abuser. I am not an abuser in the normal sense of that word. But I am sometimes an abuser in my use of time. I know the value of quiet and solitude for my own soul work. I know the beauty and value of deep conversation. I also know I have never had deep conversation via email. Certainly the 140-character limitation of Twitter does not constitute deep conversation.
Ann Pratchett’s spiritual challenge to me is not to do anything drastic or dramatic. I don’t even need new answers or more advice. I already know what to do to become more spiritually connected and deep. Knowledge is not the problem. Commitment and practice are always the issues.
I remember so well the wisdom of Quaker Thomas Kelly. When we come up short, be gentle with ourselves. Begin again. Begin where you are. Take it slowly. Practice the spiritual steps you want for the day. And when you are given the gift of another day, do it again. Like life, the spiritual journey is taken one step at a time. I suspect Ann Pratchett would simply smile---which would be her quiet “yes.”