12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
Today’s thought from Henri Nouwen got me thinking. Writing in 1992, he said that in order to follow Jesus, we must control what we take in every day – not allowing our minds to be full of garbage – not just keeping the bad stuff out but letting the good stuff in.
Well, in 1992, I was still a student. Internet access, such as it was, involved six PCs up in a room in college linked to the outside world with bell wire at 9600 baud – around 80,000 times slower than our home internet connection. The first web browser wouldn’t appear on those PCs for another year – anyone else remember Gopher? And the idea that I’d be carrying around a phone with over 3,000 times more storage than one of those PCs? Ridiculous.
So – we now live in an information age. It is so easy to whip out my phone and get distracted by work; by a tweet; by someone’s facebook status; by well-intentioned research leading on a journey of intellectual curiousity through links to a whole world of other stuff. How much harder it could be to be distracted by the bad stuff and not see the good. And how easy it is to think that help must come just from within – self-help – without reference to God.
Yet still, perhaps, it is possible to keep the good to hand. Yes, it’s easy to read a whole stream of tweets and get distracted by links to blogs, news and pictures. But then every so often we are pulled up by a cry from a fellow human being, asking for prayer. Sometimes this is overt – “if you’re the praying sort, please pray for …”. Sometimes prayer is the only response to someone less religious who hasn’t asked explicitly, but where we know that prayer is all we can do to help. And sometimes, letting others know that you are there, praying for them – and meaning it, is showing human kindness in a world that otherwise seems cruel and heartless.
So yes, I will try and keep a prayer on my lips. Yes, I will be generous when I am asked, or feel someone is in need. And if I ever find myself getting distracted too much by the ephemera, I know one prayer this Advent that will bring me back to what it’s all about. In fact, not just one prayer, but one word. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
And finally, after a day off yesterday, some music. Kings College, Cambridge, singing Morten Lauridsen’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium – a matins responsory for Christmas day. This is the sort of music that takes me away from distraction – if something like this comes on the iPod, whatever I’m trying to read gets put to one side as I get swallowed up in music that brings me, in some little way, closer to God.