Jo and I got home yesterday from being at Virginia Theological Seminary for six weeks. It was wonderful to be there. We were able to connect with old friends that go back forty years. Then there are the museums. One cold February afternoon Jo and I were gazing at a Van Gogh painting and I realized we were the only people in the room. And of course, what a gift to take the Eucharist every day.
What struck me the most, however, is what a joy it is to immerse yourself in one thing for a period of time. For the past six weeks I have been in Dante-world. I had this great idea that my class could cover the whole Divine Comedy in six weeks (I know—crazy). Of course, we didn’t. We skipped around, but the gift for me was to go into this alternate world that was ordered and focused on a soul going from hell to heaven.
Thomas Merton once said that one of the problems with modern life was its fragmentation. “Patchwork” was his term. We seldom do one thing to its completion or focus on one thought all the way through. We are flipping channels even when we’re not in front of the television.
At VTS I realized how much my brain had been rewired to that culture of distraction. It took me some time to be able to focus intently on one thing instead of going down my daily to do list or allowing an hour to slip away gazing at the endless pages on the computer.
Kierkegaard said “the purity of heart is to will one thing.” I don’t know that my heart got much purer, but I do know at some point I gave into being in Dante-world. When that happened, I was more at peace and in some sense at home. I wasn’t as distracted and I wasn’t focus on my own status in the world. I was in Dante’s world. I walked down into hell with him and up the seven story mountain with him and floated up into paradise with him.
That kind of attention changed the way I looked at the world around me. It gave me a lens to see our politicians and a perspective to think of my own journey. It made me less reactive to the current craziness.
So I invite you for a time to lose yourself in one thing---it doesn’t matter too much what it is (well, probably not gambling) so long as in some way it feeds you and reminds you of the person you have forgotten to be.
Truthfully, I have had enough Dante for a while, but I am reluctant to return completely to distraction. If I can keep awake, the Holy Spirit will open another door.