Behold the Great Outdoors
“The sun is noon-time high as I look out my living room window, where I contemplate both the grass wilting and the mercury nosing its way past 90 degrees Fahrenheit. My daughter asks if I can take her to the park, a mere 100 yards from my front door. This, I think to myself, is when men cry out to God for consolation. Where is the Lord when I need a cool breeze, or at least an abrupt thunderstorm to lower the 100% humidity?
And so I find myself on the computer, checking the leader board for the British Open while my daughter wanders around the sun porch without anything to do. And it is at this point, I realize that I am pathetic. Despite the heat, would it really hurt me to abandon the comforting glow of my laptop screen to spend some quality time with my daughter in the “great outdoors”?
Alas, as my kilobyte-induced stupor fades and I begin to get my act into gear, the storm comes and I get my excuse. But that doesn’t prevent me from wondering: what happened to me?
Talkin’ Bout My Generation
This is an age in which an increasingly consumerist society is imploring us to ignore nature. The best way to experience nature is to vegetate in front of an eight-thousand dollar high-definition, flat-screen plasma television (which I do not have, to my credit). If we must go outside, we are in some way to be using a digital device which causes us to ignore our surroundings. If you don’t believe me, I refer you to state laws regarding the use of cell phones in motor vehicles.
As one who sometimes thinks that I am a mere 1GB of extra RAM away from eternal happiness, I have given a lot of thought to how the pervasion of technology into my life has affected me spiritually. And I’ve decided that it has a negative impact.
There are two aspects to this. First, thanks to cell phones and PDAs, laptops and wireless networks (and more) I am much more closely connected to my job than I otherwise would be. And although this has its conveniences, it also permits me to spend more time obsessing about things that, under less “hooked up” circumstances, I would just not worry about. Second, I’ve turned into a news junkie. When you have an “always on” connection to the Internet you can literally watch the entire world 24 hours a day. Sadly, if I wanted to I could make a full-time occupation just out of following my local sports teams. Or I could spend two full days reading the most recent 12 hours of commentary on how likely China is to employ tactical nuclear weapons in the event that the United States intervenes when China decides to make an issue out of the whole Taiwan thing.
In reality, neither aspect has polluted my life quite enough to create a serious problem. But I’ve become aware that it does create small problems here and there. And most noticeably, I have become more and more reluctant to go outside.
Technology at What Cost?
I once read an article where a secular-minded critic decried commercial advertisements that encourage each member of a typical nuclear family to find the portable entertainment device that suits him best. The author lamented the death of days when drives through the country were a source of wonderment and joy for the whole family. Unwilling to pay the cost of living in technological modernity, he vowed that his own children would not be deprived of the wonderful memories of a childhood spent in beautiful natural surroundings.
I share these sentiments, which is why my newly discovered apathy to the outdoors alarms me all the more. I feel in some sense like I have been unwittingly subverted by “the world” to spend less time in the world.
For me, however, the author failed to put his finger on the most important aspect of examining nature—the reflection of the Creator found therein.
God and Creation
Apologetics 101: if you want to convert somebody from atheism to Christianity, try to open their eyes to the presence of God in Creation. The beautiful rhythms of the seasons, the complexity of a wildflower, the genius of the various reproductive processes—all of these well-ordered and beautiful things point the way to some sort of primary causality: a Creator.
Catholic History 101: One of the great laments of the Catholic historians is how the upheaval of the Industrial Age began the gradual disassociation of the average person from “the land”. When you rely on the land for food, till the soil and watch it yield its fruits, not only are you more likely to admit to the guiding hand of a loving God, but you are also much more likely to have a relationship with Him in prayer.
Further, a disassociation from Nature itself puts one in danger of growing out of touch with the Natural Law.
Logic dictates that the more distant we are from God’s creation, and the more we surround ourselves with the tokens of man’s technological brilliance, the less likely we are to maintain a close relationship with God, and the less likely we are to appreciate the warp and weft of God’s divine providence.
St. Francis de Sales, that great spiritual instructor, must have realized this—for his best known work Introduction to the Devout Life is rife with comparisons to occurrences found in the natural order. The same is true of other spiritual authors.
Moreover, the Church has directly linked Creation and its care to the journey of man towards God. "Man can, indeed he must, love the things of God's creation: it is from God that he has received them, and it is as flowing from God's hand that he looks upon them and reveres them. Man thanks his divine benefactor for all these things, he uses them and enjoys them in a spirit of poverty and freedom: thus he is brought to a true possession of the world, as having nothing yet possessing everything: 'All [things] are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's' (I Cor 3:22-23)" (Gaudium et spes, n. 37).
In reference to this, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Creation, given life by the presence of the Creator Spirit, is called to become ‘a dwelling place of peace’ for the entire human family. Creation achieves this goal by means of the freedom of man whom God has appointed as its guardian. If man selfishly withdraws into himself, through a false conception of freedom, he fatally involves creation itself in this perversion.”
To remind us of the importance of this relationship, the Church incorporates the language of nature into the Liturgical Year. (An excellent overview can be found on this web site by clicking the “Ordinary Time Workshop” bar near the top of every page.)
Digital technology has a legitimate place in this world. For example, it gives faithful Catholics in challenging circumstances a forum for sharing their Faith with others. It facilitates grass roots initiatives in pro-life, pro-family political movements. There are many diverse and wonderful ways that this form of technology enhances our lives.
However, I think it would be ill advised for us to ignore the potential consequences of letting ourselves and our children grow up tethered to the seductive umbilical cord of modern technology, especially in the form of entertainment devices.
We are called to participate with Creation by being in it, by enjoying it, and by exercising some care or stewardship over it (in varying degrees according to one’s calling). Rather than trapping ourselves indoors (or the mental equivalent), let us live with an awareness of a Creation that communicates the love of our God, and let us remember that all created things, including the trees and the sky, are ordered towards our salvation.
To understand this relationship between Man and Creation more completely, I encourage you to read one or more of several short articles on our site written by Pope John Paul II. These articles refer to Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and other great Catholic authors in explanation of the presence of the Holy Spirit in Creation. To find them, locate the search bar, click the “Advanced” button, select “Library”, type “creation” in the “using all of these words” field, type “John Paul II” in the “with this exact phrase” field, click “No” next to “Search full text” and click “Search” button.
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