For better or worse, we live in a society of speed, flash, and agitation. We live in a time where it seems every noise must be loud, every sensation must be pleasant, and every instant must be gratifying.
I recently went with my dad and my nine-year-old son to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. Amidst the festive atmosphere, I spotted the occasional child wearing noise-canceling ear muffs. That struck me as strange. After all, this was a baseball game we were attending: the American pastime. A relaxing sport with lots of downtime. A game without a clock (okay, well it did just get a pitch clock this year).
Baseball always seemed to me to be a sport that lends itself to contemplation. Its mathematical, strategic finesse feels pastoral, bucolic even. The objective is to bring the flock home, one by one. From first, to second, to third: the goal of the sport is to leave home, to journey, to return back home, to be safe. Think about the militarism of American football in contrast: marching down the field, advancing across the opponent’s lines, scoring points by reaching the end zone.
Baseball is a homely sport, relaxing for the mind, exciting yet contemplative. And yet, there was a certain disconnect between the sport being played on the field ahead of us and the environs around us.
It seemed that at nearly every moment possible—when the ball wasn’t actually in play—very loud, jarring music was playing. From classic rock standards to contemporary dancehall favorites to alternative rock hits to hip hop anthems, no moment was left for quiet introspection. Every inch of auditory attention was filled with a frenzy of “fan favorites.”
Adding to the noise—albeit visually—the gigantic jumbotron seemed to be always streaming something for the fans. Perhaps it was the always-popular “fan cam” where fans can jump up and down and wave if selected to appear on the screen for their fifteen seconds of fame. Or a quick replay of the home team flashing its athletic prowess. Or even a celebrity appearance if there happened to be one in attendance (this game it was Adam Sandler).
Maybe the Problem Was Me
How can we find peace in the noise? How can we let this not distract us, rile us up, and disturb our ability to contemplate? Maybe the problem was actually me. I shouldn’t have let this all distract me as much as it did. After all, I got to spend a relaxing afternoon watching baseball at the highest level. Why complain?
I didn’t set out to write a critique of Yankee Stadium—though perhaps I have. What I set out to highlight is that in contemporary society, we value the flashy over the homely, the quick over the fruitful, the stimulating over that which fosters contemplation.
Luke, the physician and historian who chronicled the life of Jesus of Nazareth as well as the development of the early Church, observed this phenomenon even two-thousand years ago:
Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:21)
So it is clearly (fallen) human nature to want to chase the new, shiny object rather than undertake the arduous work of contemplating that which is. And what does it mean to contemplate? In a word, it is to rest in the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of reality. Wow: that sounds abstract! Bear with me as I attempt to explain further.
While “meditation” and its requisite, mindfulness, are growing in popularity these days, contemplation is something much deeper. Meditation upon nothingness or being mindful of merely one’s breath can be helpful, but isn’t enough. One must contemplate, not just meditate. One must be prayerful, not just mindful. One must live as a son or daughter of God, not just follow the latest meditative breathing techniques.
Psychologists encourage us to dedicate the final hour of the day away from screens and with a good book or other simple pleasure of life in order to wind down effectively for a solid sleep. What if we spent the whole day (and night) with a bias toward contemplation, living in the presence of God? What if we could turn every moment and every action of our lives into a prayer, an offering to the God who loves us so much?
That is ultimately the goal of life: to love God and our fellow men and women so greatly that this love permeates everything we do. And that will not yield stilted bores unable to feel or enjoy life, but rather quite the opposite. In the words of the second-century Church Father, Irenaeus:
“The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.”