Blessings in Modern Times
We find blessings in unlikely places. You know that I'm interested in the ordinary life, the beauty in the every day, the quotidian, the mundane. If you read my recent essay on the All Lit Up blog, you know of my interest in spongecakes.
Is it so strange to imagine that we could also find blessings on social media and on the internet? I know that I do find blessings regularly. There is also the opposite side to that, the one that is more prevalently talked about. We’re right to be disillusioned about Facebook, for example. If you google, “why I quit Facebook” you’ll find millions of results. And while I think there are a lot of good reasons to quit, and more all the time, I also know that I’m probably not going to quit, at least not anytime soon. Of course, as I’m writing this post, the story of our data being mined in “utterly horrifying” ways has been circulating. Nothing we didn’t know to a lesser extent since the U.S. election, but there are things you can do to protect yourself there. Meanwhile, those of us who have books to promote and art shows that we hope others will attend, won’t necessarily be quitting right away.
So instead of also feeling bad about not quitting, I want to try to find ways to make the internet, for me, a more humane place, and to find the blessings there.
I recently took a book home from the library titled, Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren, partly because I liked the cover which has images of two slices of bread on it – one slathered with peanut butter, one with jam.
One of the epigraphs to the book is by Kathleen Norris and it strikes me as useful in our contemporary context.
“It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at he core of our salvation...We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are...We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places.”
For many of us, there is nothing more routine and part of our dailiness than social media, than scrolling through the internet. Yes, we know we could have written a novel and read 200 books if we’d stayed off social media this past year. But since we are there, how to make it better? For starters, we could become better curators of our feeds. We can hide people, unfriend, take a 30 day break from someone. We can unfollow pages (not mine, please, :) ) We can limit our time there. We can make a “close friends” feed on Facebook. We can stop taking quizzes. We can be more selective. For example, if you’re interested in just reading blogs, why not spend more time on Blog Lovin’?
In the book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, there is a chapter about emailing. She says, “Most of us are not called to simply abandon the modern world for a back-to-nature ideal. Instead, even now, we must hone the crafts and habits that allow us to work well and to love our neighbours through our work, whether the neighbour is someone I’ve known for decades or someone sitting at a computer screen far away.” She talks about doing all our work well, whatever that happens to be. She refers to her email (something she doesn’t enjoy) as a “holy task.”
Which is not to say that Facebook or Twitter or Instagram is work for most of us, though it is a way to promote ourselves, those of us who are writers, makers, artists, photographers. And it’s also a way to connect with community. But I wonder if it’s possible to participate in a way that we can think of our posts as blessings, our comments as blessings, our attention to what we’re viewing as blessings. I’m a secular person, as you know by now. But I’m trying to find a way to send and receive in a more satisfying way. I’m looking for blessings in unlikely places, small though they may be. Remember the poem by Robert Creeley?
by Robert Creeley
There are senses
make an object
in their simple
feeling for one.
What if we thought of our texts as blessings, our postings as such, our comments, too. And let’s not forget our emails. Before tapping on send, what if we asked ourselves if what we were sending was useful and kind.
And also, what if we change our day, just a little, so that we’re doing more of what we want to do? There was a lovely article by Gary Jansen that I read a few days ago, where he talks about changing just 1% of our day:
“Each of us shares at least one thing in common: We all have at our disposal 1,440 minutes in a single day. What we do with that time, however, is what ultimately makes us different.
As a life experiment, what would happen if you took just 1 percent of those 1,440 minutes, just 14 minutes and 24 seconds, roughly 15 minutes a day, and consciously tried to change your life? You can keep the other 99 percent of your day to do what you have to do—eat, sleep, go to work, take care of the kids, attend school, drive your sister to the doctor, surf your smartphone. Just 15 minutes. What would happen?”
If we were doing the things we wanted to be doing more of, we’d be less unhappy with social media. That’s my guess, anyway.
If you’re going to be on social media anyway, you might also read, Karen Maezen Miller’s thoughts on this, too. I like all of her 5 reminders, and maybe especially number 3: the reminder to like pictures of kids and pets. Even though we’ve become fairly used to putting ourselves out there, I still remember how much courage it takes to say certain things, to post a photograph of a private moment. To even just BE there, takes courage, most days.
We can disparage the presence of social media in our lives all we want, but it is, whether we participate in it or not, integrated with modern life. For the most part, I see it as a pleasure (excluding the recent Facebook news). In the book Liturgy of the Ordinary there is another epigraph worth sharing:
“It must be remembered that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions, or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures.”
– Dr. Johnson