I successfully resisted the impulse to Instagram tonight's sunset. I left my phone at home and walked to an empty parking lot downtown near the local Catholic church. I sat under a light post and watched the rivers of color in the sky flow and vanish down the far edge of the world.
Since we all started carrying around high quality cameras, the impulse to photograph and share our experience has become second nature. The problem is that we never truly see what we only mean to photograph. Often we only want votes of confidence from "friends" when we post to social media sites.
The late Clyde Kilby developed a short list of items he called "A Means to Mental Health. One item on this list illustrates what I mean: "I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what C.S. Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
So I sat still in the empty parking lot while the sunset burned down into the far west. I watched chimney swifts trace the erratic maplines of the sky, their tittering calls trailing behind them. The scent of linden blossoms arrived and departed, bearing memories. Robin song from somewhere nearby eased the day into night. The steeple on the church glowed and faded, it's dirty, peeling facade still pointing resolutely heavenward.
To be aware in these moments was not easy. My mind continually drifted to trying to make sense of the beauty, to think of the words I would write about it afterward, what a good photo it would make. It takes attention, fierce and focused and unmediated, to bring meaning into our lives. G.K. Chesterton wrote that we may, "by fixing our attention almost fiercely on the facts actually before us, force them to turn into adventures; force them to give up their meaning and fulfill their mysterious purpose."
Why do I care about this? Because the more enmeshed I become in the technological life, the more I sense the losses, deep losses, possibly even irretrievable losses that come with accession to the digital life. I want to reclaim something worthwhile, to live more deeply, closer to the pulse and breath of things. For me, this means stepping outside of interconnectivity and doing the hard work of reclamation; what feels like, in many senses, a reclamation of my soul.