Distraction Ministry

The new pew study on Hyperconnected lives offers much for us to consider. I’ll be focusing on much of this over the next few weeks. But my thought is that distraction is one of the areas that the church has much to help young people with. This leads to a lack of commitment or even of being able to choose what to commit to–over and against other choices one would need to say “no” to.

One hypothesis from the report:

Young people accustomed to a diet of quick-fix information nuggets will be less likely to undertake deep, critical analysis of issues and challenging information. Shallow choices, an expectation of instant gratification, a lack of patience, are likely to be common results, especially for those who do not have the motivation or training that will help them master this new environment. One possible outcome is stagnation in innovation.(emphasis mine)

Two obvious examples come to mind surrounding grief here:

Ben Zander in his TED video (That I’ve posted a few times) reported meeting a young lad in Ireland, a street kid, who he played a piece of Chopin for and while he did so he asked him to think about someone dear to him who is no longer with us. Turns out his brother had been killed in the troubles and when he died he was unable to cry for his brother. But when Zander played the piece, tears were the inevitable result. Zander then realized that classical music was for everyone.

There was an obvious block in the young man’s emotion that left him unable to openly release his emotions. It may have been guilt or fear or hatred, but whatever it was is irrelevant. What enabled him to feel was the setting that Zander provided. The setting of quiet and more importantly of focus. The music itself is merely an anchor to the setting but it works marvelously. More importantly, Zander spent time explaining how classic music is not just a series of impulses, but rather a long journey from start to finish–one impulse on the whole piece. That’s what enabled the release to be able to occur. The young man could simply be still in that environment.

Along the same mindset, others dealing with grief probably experience the same thing. Many don’t get to truly grieve until after the ritual is over and they are left alone with their thoughts–sometimes in an empty house filled with quiet. The wake and the food and the planning all take time and effort and it serves to only distract us from the real work that needs to occur–the experience of healing within grief. That experience usually and perhaps only happens when one can decompress in solitude or perhaps with a trusted person who enables the proper setting–who allows someone to be open enough to let down the protective guards and really feel what’s happening. Sometimes this can happen at a wake or a funeral, but most times it doesn’t. We go through the motions but don’t reach a catharsis. Perhaps the ritual, for some, just serves as distraction, mostly because they can’t engage in any real deep reflection–and perhaps they might not know how through these means.

Perhaps the same is true with younger people and personal spirituality? Most come to spiritual direction thinking there’s a proper way to pray and want to know the steps one should take in developing a prayer ritual that they can engage in often enough. Truth be told, the release happens when they let go of the need for an impulsive response to prayer and rely on the need to slow down and to be quiet and hear the still soft voice within themselves, harkening them to God’s call in their lives and the fact that there is no rush. There is no place to be but there. Spiritual direction provides a mentor that helps them lose the distractions and more importantly helps them develop an articulation for what is going on. The twofold task of the director is to point out where God is at work in their lives that they might be too distracted to see (for whatever reason) and secondly, to help them articulate that spiritual experience for what it is. To name what it means to be in tune with God and to not fight against that one long impulse from our creation back to God. Perhaps the ideal is to even go beyond ourselves and not fight the connectedness we have from all creation from all time–to see God’s creation and our part in it as one long unfinished symphony that has lasted before our earthly time and will last long after we are gone from this world.

Opportunities for quiet with an anchor to help guide meditation seems paramount for millennials. Eucharistic Adoration is popular among millennials, but I fear that often the articulation of that experience goes unchecked and leads to a false piety or an unreflective superstition for some. In short, the young reflect but the reflection itself is only distraction–one more experience without articulation of what that actually is–or a misinterpretation of what it is. The impulse ends up being on only the self and much less on God or the reverse, only on God and not at all on the self. A balance of God opening us up to who we really are, while being free from distraction is the right balance to strive for and having spiritual directors available to talk with people from time to time would be a healthy and perhaps necessary addition to the ritual.

I’ve come to the conclusion that becoming a trusted source that allows others to dig more deeply and whisk away distraction will be a primary way to minister to the present generation of college students and young adults. Being available to open people up enough to trust you and to be able to be present to others, but more than that, to be able to help articulate spiritual experience over and against what distractions they might be experiencing is a ministry well worth engaging in for we in ministry.

I welcome both the thoughts of millennials and ministry professionals on this as we move forward on the journey–with one impulse together.