Her thinking was old. To a child whose notion of modern times was shaped by watching the Jetsons, a visit to my grandmother’s felt like stepping back in time. There is a risk in taking up the subject of rest in a digital age. Digital natives are tempted to dismiss any criticism of digital culture as little more than the grumbling of those who have trouble keeping up with technological advances. There is no going back to the B.C. (before computers) era.
Pursuing rest in a digital age
I am not addicted. I am distracted. Computer technology has not destroyed my ability to concentrate. But it has made it harder. It has also made rest harder to find. Digital technology has turned our world into one where we are never alone and are always on the job.
The technology is new but the fear is an old one. It is solitude I dread. And digital culture makes solitude easier to avoid.
Rest is harder to find in a digital culture because technology has dissolved the two fundamental boundaries that are essential to rest: solitude and silence.
Solitude and silence
Like Jesus we occasionally need to withdraw from the crowd -especially the virtual crowd. One solution is to turn to habits the church practiced long before the computer age was ever envisioned: the ancient disciplines of solitude and silence.
The biblical metaphor for solitude is the wilderness. It is a place of deprivation. The wilderness is also a place of disruption.
This sheds an important light on the experience of rest. We are tempted to think of rest as a kind of indulgence. But in reality the practice of rest often involves a measure of self-denial. Rest requires that we cease our ordinary activities and break away from our daily relationships. When we are at rest we are often unavailable.
When God’s people observed the Sabbath in the wilderness, they could not gather manna. The intention was not for the Israelites to go hungry but to recognize that they were being fed by God. They abstained from their normal occupations in order to occupy themselves with something better. Likewise, when we rest in this way we do not cease from all activity; we abstain from one kind of activity in order to engage in another.
The pursuit of rest is really the pursuit of God.
This is the goal when we practice solitude.
The steps required to find solitude do not always have to be so elaborate. If we can discipline ourselves to turn off the television, computer and phone, a favorite chair in a comfortable room in our own house will do just as well.
Solitude is a mirror and I do not always like what it shows me. It is a context in which we are forced to face our weaknesses and shortcomings.
Fortunately, solitude is also a sanctuary.
Solitude and silence are not merely disciplines; they are exercises in trust. Those who practice solitude and silence rest in God’s control. He is fully capable of running the world without our help.
Solitude and silence are countermeasures for a world that tries to persuade us that out worth is measured by our usefulness.
Questions for reflection
- How has technology helped your spiritual life? Where has it been a hindrance? Are some areas more affected than others? If so, which areas have been affected most?
- Do you find it hard to “unplug” from the digital world? Is one form of media more difficult to abstain from than another?
- In what ways has digital culture made it difficult for you to experience rest? Is this a problem created by the technology or something else? Are there any simple steps you can take to address this problem?
- What do solitude and silence look like in your life? What steps can you take to practice these disciplines?
For more on REST and the DIGITAL AGE, read The radical pursuit of rest, by John Koessler. You can find it here.