During the Ash Wednesday liturgy, our pastor characterized the proceedings as both “bizarre” and “intensely practical.”  Bizarre, because on this day the church reminds all of us that we are going to die, while doing its best, during the rest of the year, to ignore or minimize this reality.  Practical, because we are invited into a holy Lent, that is, to step into a more intentional practice of our religion–whether it be regular prayer, more giving, fasting, doing justice or living in loving-kindness with our neighbors.

While it may be bizarre to tell people “Remember that from dust you come, and to dust you will return,”  I think it is most salutary and necessary to receive this message.  It is, after all, in the realm of real life and death in which we are, or are not, faithful; it is for living abundantly and joyfully in reality that our traditions prepare us, or fail to prepare us.

But reality is, for many of us human beings, not an easy place in which to stay and live.  We are happy to visit it a number of times each year, perhaps, but to remain for sustained periods in our own reality, and the realities of this world??  Even though we know (if we are not politicians!) that it is only in the realm of the realities of our lives that possibility and change is to be found, we all too often avoid reality.  It is, after all, a place of suffering, confusion, challenges, obstacles, violence, loneliness, etc., etc.

Rather than stay out in this harsh, but real, wilderness, very many of us turn, or turn back, to the fleshpots of Egpyt.  The Kingdoms of Distraction and their purveyors and servants are right there to welcome us.

Some turn to the Kingdom of addictions of various kinds, including working without limits.  Others tend to less harmful distractions, for example, to the Kingdom of buying stuff, or to the Realm of all-consuming engagement in certain activities or sports.

The Kingdom of Distraction that distresses me the most is that of non-stop television, radio and internet “information”, opinion and story.  How many of us allow ourselves to be swept into mass distraction of this kind?  Some stay tuned in to this stream of distraction all the time!  Personally, I most easily fall into the distractions of games –crosswords, sudoko, Free Cell, solitaire– and the distraction of the web, particularly the vortex of Facebook.

I worry about a country like the USA, in which so many citizens, including myself, spend so much time in the Kingdoms of Distraction.  For centuries, after all, decisions affecting public life have been made by a few, while the public has been distracted with bread and circuses.  Now the bread and circus routines, the Kingdoms of Distraction are so much more invasve and pervasive and effective.  Carving out times and places for people to spend time in contact with each other and with the realities of life is more necessary than ever.

I’ll be taking a break from Facebook and from computer games during this Lenten season, to try to see what I’ve been distracting myself from.  How are you dealing with distractions in your own practice?

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