I was reading a review of a recent religious conference, written by a bishop who had been in attendance there, and he had made some remarks about his sense of tension between a local and a broader view of faith and religion and the practice of each. It reminded me of something I had been thinking about.
With regard to myself, I note that I have a keen interest in the broader view of ‘Church’ and of faith as it is practised in various other places around the world – further afield in this land, as well as in many others. I note, too, that often what I am reading tends to be somewhat negative in it’s portrayal of whatever is under discussion at that moment – I suppose having a complaint about some aspect of faith can be an impetus for sharing our opinion, which I have certainly done myself at times. Needless to say, oftentimes such complaints are justified and there is merit in what the writer is saying – although that is not always the case. At times, a ‘bandwagon’ is then established onto which various others jump with great ease, offering their own contributions – and which (all too often) have every morsel of charity removed and which can amount to little more than vitriol, particularly as ‘discussions’ move forward.
Looking at my own internal response to this reading, I sense a cumulative effect of all that negativity. I feel a sense of disappointment that even in discussing some aspect of shared faith, differences are used as cudgels with which to beat another and – worse still – to act as a verbal springboard into the realms of detraction. And all the while, there is little consideration given not only to the damage we might inflict on others, but also on ourselves and our own integrity and charity. Now, I should be clear that I am not talking about taking an active part in all these things – I am referring to witnessing them, for that is enough to do the damage whether we add anything or not.
It is often at those moments that I determine to go into the internet equivalent of a silent retreat.
The discussions and arguments will continue abreast whether I am present or not – but there is no need for me to be there to witness them. Indeed, there is sometimes every good reason for me not to be there. And so I vanish to an extent. Returning afterward, I am more careful about who and what I read – I curate very carefully. ‘Mute’ and ‘unfollow’ are good friends in this respect.
The ‘time out’ allows me to re-focus spiritually and mentally. It offers a moment of respite from a place which seems to thrive on acrimony and dissension. And those two things are generally not good – particularly when they remove our ability to see the much that we share, so perceiving only the little where we differ.
In the real world of every day life, I refocus my attention on the Church as it is locally, rather than on any issues I hear of in the global Church. Those broader issues and problems are, for the most part, entirely outwith my control and they will, one way or another, be resolved eventually. Better for me to keep pace with the community of which I am a part and which I might be able to have some influence upon, even if indirectly and only in the smallest way.
The end result of all of this is a greater sense of interior peace. And that is a very precious gift indeed. It does not equate to a sense of quietism, of simply allowing all things to happen around us and pretending we have no place in it – but it does mean knowing when to take a little step back, even if only for a moment or two.