Julian of Antioch (Martyr, 302)
Our minds, being finite, are only capable of holding so much memory, viewing so many images, thinking so many thoughts, processing so much data, and communicating so much information.
Our conscious minds are even more restricted: I am not consciously aware that my brain is sending signals to my fingers as a type, to my organs as I digest my lunch, to my skin as I feel the cold from the window, and signals for all sorts of other bodily functions.
My fully conscious mind, for the moment, is focused on trains of thought that sometimes pause mid-sentence as I type, or retraces its steps as it reviews what I've written and decides on the spot whether the sentences make sense and whether the composition logically, conceptually, or imaginatively or in some other way naturally flows from one image to another.
What is "going on between my ears" right now is a combination of visual images from my computer screen, memory banks sorting for resonances with other things I've read, the identification of the flavor of the aroma from a cup of tea nearby, the sounds emanating from my phone's voicemail speaker telling me it's another robo marketing call.
What's in our minds? What does the world look like to you? For many it includes miles (and perhaps hours) of brake lights, traffic lights, news-radio, billboards, marketing pitches, hundreds of emails in the "in box," staring at images and messages in our palms, bouncing from one person to another in cyberspace.
The larger "real world," if you decide to think about it, supposedly includes such things as the current News Headlines, the D-J average, the geo-political world as presented to us in our news source of choice, knowledge that a billion Chinese workers are competing for the world's cash, a North Korean has a bomb, Europe is tottering into who-knows-what, Twitter flash mobs, a warming planet wired for cyberspace, a cosmos with black holes, exotic radiation, exoplanets, and gravity waves. Our bodies are labeled and measured by vitamin levels, neurochemical balances, blood pressures, cell counts, body-fat indices, and statistical probabilities for death by an assortment of causes.
There are spaces for bracketing out the world's noise and breaking the hold of this modern metric lifestyle, where we may be more open to becoming our true, or at least natural, selves: walking where God-created nature surrounds us, listening to its sounds. Listening to the play and laughter of young children who've not been plugged into devices and groomed to focus their lives on desires. Peering at a night sky without city lights, or the sun and moon slowly rising and setting. Feeling against my face a breeze heated by the sun or cooled by the shade.
In such a state, ask yourself, "What do I have 'in mind'?" More to my point, "What might it mean to acquire the mind of Christ?" Can I do this without carving out some space for it? My mind, after all, can only store so much; something has got to go. Many of these distractions are optional.
What about time allotted for prayers, Scripture readings, Psalms, sacred hymns, chant, meditations, almsgiving, serving the poor? Why should we spend most of our discretionary time on things that don't build us up, that is, feed us spiritually? Because of what we choose, or what we allow ourselves to take in, we choke out the growth of the good seed of the Sower. Some of this self-choking may become habitual: does watching hours and hours of well-acted and fascinating dramas in some way bring me closer to Christ? Maybe, but maybe not.
The thought of giving up many of the good things on offer nags me with the memory I have of a Teaching I occasionally come across: "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." While hell may not be the end of every one of our choices, there is a principle here: deleting what is lesser for the sake of gaining the greater.
It reminds me also of a Teaching about pruning so we might bear more fruit. The more we are truly abiding in Christ, the more abundant our lives become. We may even be able to bring out of our own storehouses treasures old and new to share with others. There is, after all, only one thing needful. And that's what we call a "priority."
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.