This is a post I wrote for our Foothills Christian Church’s advent devotional, which appears at Irreverin.com.
What are you waiting for?
I still remember my first Kindle. It was a 21st birthday gift from my mother. When I first opened it, I didn’t really know what it was. The box was covered with the words “Amazon,” and it was printed with reviews extolling this product as “revolutionary.” It didn’t take me very long to agree with them (nor did it take me very long to buy a bunch of books that I still haven’t read).
What’s the Kindle–and other e-readers– so revolutionary, is the speed at which you can purchase and download a book directly to the device. The whole process takes about 3 minutes, from opening the kindle store, to searching for the desired book, to pressing ‘purchase,’ to starting the download. It’s instant gratification at its best. No waiting involved!
What worries me about my Kindle, and maybe about consumerism in general, is the way in which my ‘stuff’ starts to change me. If I don’t have to wait for my books, why should I have to wait for anything else I want? Why should I have to wait for the pharmacy to open in the morning when I can go to the 24-hour superstore down the street? Why should I have to wait for my food to cook, when I can call up the delivery people and get my sandwich/pizza/pasta/etc?
What concerns me even more is that I begin to feel anxiety in waiting for less tangible things. I’m waiting to get over a cold, or waiting for vacation, or waiting to feel comfortable and settled in a new place. All I want–all I can think about– is that moment when I’m healed, relaxed, comfortable…
Waiting requires me to analyze my desires and to question my practices. Is buying a book from a face-less website better than buying from a locally-owned and operated bookstore that will keep my money in my community? How does acting on late night shopping impulses affect the life of the worker who now has to work an 8-hour night shift? When I get sick, should I automatically assume that I need the latest pharmaceutical cure, or should I question other ways in which I may not take care of my body? Should I view work as something I have to do to get benefits (pay/health insurance/vacation) or should I view it as a way to make my world a better place? Unless I’m willing to wait, I’ll never ask these questions.
A few years ago, I was able to spend Holy Week with the spiritual community in Taize, France. There, a group of brothers (both protestant and Catholic) run the community, taking on traditional monastic vows. The community opens itself to young pilgrims seeking spiritual guidance. Every day, people from around the world meet in small-groups, volunteer for meal duty, and have conversations about faith and life in different parts of the world.
What the community is famous for, however, is worship. The thousands of people who stay at Taize gather 3 times daily for a simple service. Each service includes opening songs, prepared by the community; a scripture reading; then ten minutes of silence, eventually broken by another song; and a closing benediction.
By the end of the second day, it was evident that a large segment of the group was not comfortable with the silence. To be clear, this was total silence; there was no light music playing in the background, there was no conversation, no whispering. Just 10 minutes of silence, three times a day, to sit and pray and think and…what do you do with 10 minutes of silence, anyway? It was difficult
By the fourth day, however, things started to change. People in our group starting talking about how refreshing it was to stop during the day, and to be able to pray without desire for anything else. It took that few days of discomfort to recognize that we each had a need to stop–and be in the presence of God. We learned that we had to put off what we wanted, to find what we never knew we needed .
When my life is guided by instant gratification, I come to expect that what I want, I should have. But when I give myself to delayed desire, I am opened to new experiences. A few minutes of daily silence; a trip out of my way to visit that local bookstore; more knowledge of where my food comes from; each small thing can drastically transform how I relate to my world. It takes a little bit of waiting, but in that time I become aware of just how amazing creation can be. And maybe, if I’m diligent, I can even understand what God meant in Genesis about a “good creation” thousands of years before the invention of the Kindle.