A friend asked why I hadn’t posted recently. I said, “I have a traffic jam in my head!” I think you can probably relate. The daily pressures and the constant stream of distractions leave little room for reflection. In modern society, we really have so much free time, even though it doesn’t feel like it. Our basic needs are far more easily fulfilled than our ancestor’s. But we are so filled with expectations, careers, families, social media, that we feel unable to focus.
The perfect metaphor for modern life is the traffic jam. It’s a colossal waste of time, completely self-imposed by where we choose to live and work and play. The only people who don’t deal with traffic jams either have the means to live close to work, or live in rural places, or just don’t get out, whether by choice or not.
The photo above is a few miles from my house in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington State. That’s the mighty Columbia River behind the mountain peak. It’s easy to live there in monastic silence: no traffic, no people and the corner store sells mac-n-cheese and beer. It’s a great place to study and pray. But, to do anything useful I have to come down the mountain.
This is the dilemma of the contemplative Christian life. Should I hide away and pray fervently in quiet? Should I lead a busy life filled to the brim with work, family, children, hobbies, school, church and car payments? For many of us, it doesn’t seem like we have a lot of choice. That’s why it’s best for most of us to find a hybrid state, to be in the busyness of the world while leading a contemplative life – a kind of “traffic jam monasticism.”
How do you do this? There are thousands of books with multi-step prescriptive plans and checklists – most of which aren’t very helpful. Instead, there is much more to learn from the mystics and desert fathers/mothers. The common theme is making time for contemplative prayer above all else. And surrendering control. Modern authors like Brene Brown and Richard Rohr and Pema Chodron make this accessible in our age of constant distraction and social media.
It is the relentless pursuit of relenting. And a peaceable life in midst of traffic.