AND THE POINT IS?
We prefer to live without space between our experiences, giving an endless sense of flow which makes for a full life but not for life in all its fullness
Researchers carried out an experiment recently, putting several people in a room on their own with nothing else to do but sit there for fifteen minutes, to see what happened. A majority admitted feeling uncomfortable with little but their thoughts to console them. The experiment was repeated, only this time an instrument was placed in the room that could administer an unpleasant electric shock. In the fifteen minute period, one in four women self-administered this shock to relieve the boredom. Two in three men did.
There are shades of Stanley Milgram’s famous and disturbing test where people were told to administer increasingly charged electric shocks to people sitting in a room. The victims were actors but those applying the pain did not know it. And they continued to ‘hurt’ the victims until serious injury and death came into view. This experiment showed how suggestible and malleable human beings are; how prone we are to following instructions and surrendering our moral will in the process.
But what does the fifteen minute experiment tell us? There is a chance we don’t draw the right conclusions from social experiments because it is hard to get into the mind of others – but being human ourselves, we can make a good guess at what happened.
Our lives are over-stimulated by noise, information and speed. We have grown used to this; in some cases we have become addicted to it. To be alone in a room for quarter of an hour with only our thoughts is uncomfortable because it is so unusual. We don’t need to live like this; our phones are the ‘rod and staff which comfort us’. Any spare moment can be spent using Facebook, Instagram or Spotify. In this way, deeper thought is crowded out.
One accepted sign of growing up is the way time gives the appearance of speeding up. Every July, children feel the school summer holiday unfolding in front of them will last forever. Adults by contrast fix social events months in advance and think nothing of it. But perhaps there is more to it, today. We prefer to live without space between our experiences, giving an endless sense of flow which makes for a full life but not for life in all its fullness.
People who are busy at work, in the home and at leisure might give the appearance of running successful households but, in their lack of space, may be missing the point. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years without much reflection on the purpose of life. This lack is common to most of us; our lives drift deceptively from God like an inflatable from the shore on a summer’s sea. We mimic a sense of direction by imposing arbitrary targets on ourselves, without thinking how they might fit into the journey we are invited to make into God.
Contemporary mission asks the Church to create spaces for people whose lives are crowded with activity, so that their souls can breathe and take stock. This is not simply the offer of Sunday worship, but the embodiment of a way of life which attracts because it takes seriously the need for people to stop and reflect, offering gentle encouragement to the weary and disorientated.
The Church, though, may have as far to go as others. There is an ethic of activism which impedes rather than enables, and an odd expectation of church leaders that they should work themselves silly lest they not be true to their calling; one which is deeply unattractive to younger generations.
We might gasp at the person who must self-administer an electric shock to relieve the silence their soul is confronted with, but some of what we do in church is merely a sanctified version of this, as we find ways of not facing up to the disarming call of Christ to an unencumbered yet soulful discipleship.
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