The title of today’s column came from a wonderful man in our little church on Bent Mountain. One Sunday he talked about being distracted by worry, anxiety, pride and even joy. I wanted to write about that yet didn’t have the first clue as to how to begin.
So what did I do? Procrastinate! Since then, however, I have gotten repeated indications that writing a column with this title would be in my future. And when a passage by Frederick Buechner on joy appeared just before going to bed last night, I knew that the future was “now.”
When I sit down to write, I usually consult the words of CS Lewis, Oswald Chambers and Frederick Buechner who had already presented himself to me on the topic. Occasionally I search TED Talk archives as well. I struck gold this time in one entitled, “Cloudy with a Chance of Joy” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, who is founder of “The Cloud Appreciation Society” of all things.
His talk was about the aimless nature of “cloud spotting,” as he calls it and how essential this seemingly pointless activity is in our plugged-in world. He says that clouds “remind us that the exotic can be found in the everyday” and that “nothing is more nourishing, more stimulating to an active, inquiring mind than being surprised, than being amazed.” He continues, “You don’t need to rush off, away from the familiar, across the world to be surprised. You just need to step outside, pay attention to what’s so commonplace, so every day, so mundane that everybody else misses it.”
He adds, “The digital world conspires to make us feel eternally busy,” and clouds remind us that “slowing down and being in the present, not thinking about what you’ve got to do and what you should’ve done…letting your imagination lift from the everyday concerns…it’s good for you.”
Gavin Pretor-Pinney is encouraging us to simply look up, which reminds me of something my husband and I have discussed on several occasions. He has made a pact with himself to refrain from looking at his cell phone when he’s in a check-out line or I get up from the table at a restaurant – or any other unexpected free moment when there is “nothing else to do.”
The simple fact is that there is “something else to do.” We have become so falsely connected to each other by these devices that we often miss REAL opportunities to connect with someone or something or some unexpected evidence of Creation – that which can evokes a tear, a laugh, a gasp of wonder. Or miss the joy of being in some ordinary place doing some ordinary thing with some “ordinary” person.
Recently I was overseeing a septic inspection (I’m a Realtor by profession), closely watching the employees pry open the lids of the antiquated distribution box and septic tank and listening to their assessment. For some reason I offered up the fact that I had prayed for wisdom to counsel my buyers on the matter and had come to the conclusion that this inspection was a must-do given the age the house and lack of records on this particular system.
One of the men looked up and inquired, “So you pray?” To which I replied “Yes I do.” He continued, “So you believe?” To which I replied, “Yes I do, but I don’t tell everyone that.” Without a moment’s hesitation, he exclaimed, “Well, you should!” And then, I started laughing – at the truth of his words, and at that unlikely moment of, well, joy.
We talked some more about life and God and septic systems, of course. I realized later that I could’ve been staring at my phone the entire time and missed seeing – and listening to – this beautiful soul.
In summary I would say we all need to look up. From our computers and phones so that we may see and know – and I mean really see and know – the person right in front of us – or a cloud, a bird, a leaf which in some strange, inexpressible way helps us know something of our Creator.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that “joy is the business of heaven” while Frederick Buechner added to that idea by saying, “We need to be reminded that at its heart Christianity IS joy and that laughter and freedom and the reaching out of arms are the very essence of it.”
We are indeed built for joy. We are built for connection. We are built for Him. And the things that really distract us – our devices, our possessions, our busyness, our envy (to name but a few)? They rob us of true joy.
Note to Self: There really is no substitute for paying attention.