I try once a month to take what is called a “desert day”, a day to retreat from all work and technology to be with the Lord and listen to Him, to pray for all the people who have become a part of my belonging to Christ. I spent one of those days hiking Kennesaw Mountain in North Georgia, doing equal parts wandering and taking in the scenery. At one point I was tucked in between a group of large rocks on the mountaintop eating my lunch when three young ladies picked a spot near mine. To my shock, they spent the next half hour taking pictures of each other in various poses in front of the view trying to get the best image possible of their adventure to post online. When they were satisfied, they made the trek back down the mountain. The view had become not something beautiful to encounter, but a prop for a digital narrative.
This scene has haunted me for some time, not as a point of condemnation of these young ladies, but because it is a sign of a growing malady in all of us, men included. This is not a feminine problem but a human problem. And the truth is, I recognize this temptation within myself. In so many ways, the digital has become the real in our culture. It has become our measure for the standard of reality. We see beautiful sights and think that they will make great posts online, that our relationships aren’t official until they are on Facebook, and spend more time taking pictures before events than we do at the event itself. We have experiences, not for the sake of growing, of being changed, but for the sake of publishing. We no longer use technology as a help for us better engage reality, but we use reality for the sake of better presenting ourselves online.
What if we lose each other in all this? What if we lose the meaning of the Wedding Rite or the person we are marrying because our focus is on the perfect wedding pictures? What if we can’t enjoy the presence of our friends behind all the poses? I suspect we as a culture are lonelier than ever because we have chosen an artificial world for the real one; in doing so we have lost the capacity to be together in a real way, to really see each other, to be in a relationship in a true way.
The truth is we run, we flee from reality whenever given the chance to experience it, and all of our screens have given us the means to do that. But this running away has a cost. And the cost is so often beauty, the ability to be moved and changed by beauty here in reality, in the beauty of creation, real art, our relationships, and the very beauty of just being here.
In a world where God has become man in a particular time, place and context, we as Catholic men are called in a particular way to live in reality, to have our eyes fixed on a here, on the people we have been called to love and the work we have been called to do. Christ is the one who meets us in reality and constantly brings us back to the reality from which we so often run. So, if we recognize this habit within ourselves; that habit where, whenever we see something worth seeing and view it in reference to the internet or social media, that the digital world has replaced the real world, then maybe it is time to take a break. It is time to detox so that we can see reality in a true way. Before we can propose real freedom to the world, we ourselves have to be free. If it is time to take a break, then take it. Beauty is worth it.
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