In the past week I have entered the exciting world of smart phone users. To be completely honest, the first time I held my new iPhone I was intimidated. All of the options of the internet, music, apps; I didn’t know where to start. After a couple days I have it down pretty good though. Now I can’t put my phone down and often crouch in a corner while slowly caressing its side and whispering, “It came to me.” So I got to wondering, am I going to become one of those people I have been hearing about who have become completely dependent on their mobile device to the point where it could be labeled an addiction. In the past I have become annoyed when someone I am trying to have a conversation with only resentfully acknowledges my presence because they are completely consumed with the phone they are holding. Will I become one of those people? Not me.
We have heard a lot about “addiction to mobile devices” recently but this is probably because they are the latest product to maintain our attention. Whenever something takes hold of our culture as a whole, we often become captivated for a while then the cynics warn us of our over consumption. This happened with the internet, videogames, television, rock music…what did people do before all this? These people are always met with boos and hisses; they are called prude and ignorant and it’s common for bad eighties movies (and even worse remakes) to be made about them. Is this fair though?
For us Orthodox Christians, we are nearing the end of our Lenten season. Great Lent for the Orthodox is a period of increased fasting and prayer. Roman Catholics have Lent as well and Protestants and other faiths also practice fasting, but I will speak for the Orthodox Lenten practices since it is what I am familiar with. During Lent, we subtract animal products (meat, eggs, and dairy) from our diet; we do this for several reasons. This is a physical attack on our spiritual state of complacency in many respects. By cutting out a large portion of our menu, we force ourselves to become aware of what we are putting into our bodies and I am not referring simply to our stomachs. Lent is a time for us to look at the priorities we have for ourselves and how they relate to what should be our main priority- God and His Church.
A lot of you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “I don’t need this religious bull. The only thing fasting from meat and dairy will accomplish is making me more aware of meat and dairy. Not the presences of an invisible deity.” I would say you are right; at least at first. Think about the smoker who is trying to quit, what else do they think about besides smoking for the first couple days after they quit? With time though, their thoughts shift to other things and leaving behind the addiction becomes less and less difficult. Well then you say, “Smoking is a dangerous addiction, and eating is required to live.” You are right again, but this is where the spiritual aspect of fasting becomes important to us Orthodox. As Americans, I think we can all agree we eat way too much; so much so the First Lady has devoted her time in office to fighting this self-inflicted epidemic. Actually eating can become extremely unhealthy if it is not kept in check, but fasting is not a “weigh-watchers” program. We refrain from certain foods in order to direct our thoughts, which can be difficult at first, to more elevated places. As we become more disciplined in our fasting we learn to substitute increased prayer and meditation, spiritual food, where physical food once was. Focusing the energy we once used to consume calories into searching for the heart and mind of our creator is the sole purpose of fasting during Great Lent.
Here is where we get back to our culture’s consumption of products and media. By focusing more on who God is and how we may grow to become better equipped to see Him, much of the fads and trends we once desired now become secondary. Don’t get me wrong, I am not out to condemn iPhone users; I am one remember. Much can be gained from becoming more connected with the world and the information it has to offer, but like anything (yes, including the church), if it consumes all of our time and energy without leaving room for that which is most important, communion with the divine, we will feel a lot like we have an empty inbox. I need to work on this.