Another Gaudete weekday, another feast day! Today we celebrate St. Lucy, virgin and martyr. This incredible young woman has many a legend surrounding her torture and death, most famously captured in images of her holding her eyeballs on a plate or in a cup. St. Lucy is said to have had her eyes gouged out, but upon her burial, they were miraculously restored making her the Patron Saint of the Blind.
Blindness is a theme we hear a lot about in Scripture. Isaac went blind in his old age, which led to a hilarious birthright bait-and-switch in Genesis 27. Both Tobit and Paul were struck blind, however the causes were very different: bird droppings (Tob 2:10) vs. having a vision of Christ (Acts 9:8). Best known to us are the numerous blind people that Jesus keeps running into (or as I would imagine, kept running into him) in all four gospels (Matthew 9:27-31; 20:29-34, Mark 8:22-25; Luke 18:35-43; John 9).
When we look at these gospel accounts through the different Senses of Scripture (Wordplay!), we can see that on one hand—the literal sense, these are stories of Jesus healing people with a physical affliction. We also interpret these passages on a spiritual level, seeing Jesus healing his people (including us!) of our spiritual blindness and sin. However, I don’t think our need for healing ends with the spiritual. In today’s world we have become physically blind not due to a visual impairment but rather because we are glued to our screens. Whether we have physically run into something while texting or have simply become blind to those around us, we have a serious vision issue in 2016.
I am reminded of the advice of another Lucy: “Snap out of it!” While Charlie Brown’s depression is not something to be taken lightly, we could use this nickel’s worth of advice when it comes to our smartphones and screens. Even though we have lit the pink candle, we should still be in a spirit of preparation for the coming of Jesus. If you’re like me you have spent too much of the last two weeks preparing your presents and tree… and posting all about it on instagram. So how do we deal with the physical blindness we all face with our screen and smartphone addictions? Besides asking for the intercession of St. Lucy, here are some challenges I offer to you for the remainder of Advent.
These CHALLENGES come in a couple of versions: Regular Challenge and Challenge+ which has a better camera and larger screen…
(1) Motivation Challenge: Make a Daily Phonexamen:
The first question is WHEN. When are you screen blind? Is it first thing in the morning? Do you turn off your alarm on your phone and stay in bed an extra half hour scrolling through your newsfeed or the latest headlines? Is it when you finally turn off the tv but bring your ipad to bed and scroll into the night instead of sticking to that original bedtime you had planned? That one extra episode of netflix or mindless scrolling is robbing you of precious minutes and sometimes hours of sleep at either end of your night. For an excellent reflection on why sleep matters in our spiritual life, please check out Father Mike Schmitz on Ascension Presents
The second question is WHY. When you catch yourself mindlessly scrolling ask yourself WHY: What am I avoiding? Am I procrastinating from a responsibility? Am I avoiding boredom? Am I avoiding silence? If I put the phone down will I have to actually take into account my loneliness and feelings of unworthiness? What am I seeking from this screen? Comfort? Knowledge? Laughter? Peace? Joy? Connection? Relief from my FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)? Am I getting what I’m seeking from the screen?
Challenge Plus: If the AM is your screen struggle time: get a real alarm that is not your smartphone. Bonus challenge: Fast from looking at a screen until after you have some quiet prayer time, after your coffee, after your breakfast, after you’ve really woken up and engaged in your day. If the PM is your screen time, try turning off the screens 1 hour before bed. That way you can clear your mind, pray, and not dream about cat videos on youtube.
(2) Deprivation Challenge: Turn your phone off for 1 hour a day.
But Katie, NOOOOOOO… I know, I know, you have kids, bosses, mothers-in-law, etc. that need to reach you. My bet is that if you really look at your day there is at least 1 hour where you are with enough of your loved ones that they will not need to text you, and they will appreciate seeing your eyes again.
Challenge Plus: Tech sabbath! Pick one day and for 8 straight hours fast from all screens (exception: if Elf comes on TV, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is to watch Elf at least once a year). I promise that once you survive one tech sabbath you will want to schedule them into your calendar monthly!
(3) Connection Challenge: Connect without looking at a screen.
Call somebody! After a thorough examination of my communication practices this Advent, I have discovered that I have lost the art of the intentional phone call. Back in the days of answering machines, when the most thrilling Christmas present a middle school girl could receive was her own phone line, it was nothing to spend hours on the phone just talking. Not talking while online shopping, not talking while fact checking the person you’re talking to, not talking while driving–just talking. Being present. We’ve gotten so “busy” that the only time we make a phone call now seems to be in the car because texting while driving is illegal–and also dangerous. Stop it. One of my personal Advent sacrifices was to stop putting my iphone on speaker so I could accomplish other tasks while being on the phone. Confession: I failed miserably.
In the final two weeks before Christmas, rediscover the intentional phone call. Not every phone call requires this… sometimes we just need to clarify what type of creamer we want from the grocery store or who is picking up which child. Obviously, we cannot stop everything we are doing for every telephonic communication, but we can certainly do better. Start small: no looking at your ipad, or scrolling through facebook, or watching tv while you’re on the phone. No driving, feeding small children, cooking, or folding of laundry while you’re on the phone. Get excited about your intentional phone calls… make a cup of coffee, sit in a comfy chair, enjoy the warm glow of your Christmas tree, schedule a time that works for both parties so that both you and your loved one can be present to one another.
SPIRITUAL SPOILER ALERT: These are also good and necessary practices for a healthy prayer life! Our inability to communicate and connect with each other is directly related to our same busyness and distraction when it comes to connecting with God.
Challenge Plus: Write letters. Due to some rather incredible circumstances in my life over the past year (this will be a fun blog topic for the future) I have rediscovered my love for the handwritten letter. Benefits of this challenge–people LOVE getting mail! It.is.the.BEST. This time of year our mantels are transformed by pinterest-worthy Christmas cards from friends and family from across the globe. And while this practice is a beautiful way to keep up with each other aside from facebook, these Christmas Cards often lack the written word. Beautifully styled envelopes are often preprinted with addresses. Again, nothing is wrong with this practice–I love seeing my name in new chic fonts, but what my heart longs for and your heart longs for is connection that can only be felt through a personalized note.
SPIRITUAL SPOILER ALERT: These are also good and necessary practices for a healthy prayer life! Physically writing or journaling when we pray helps us to understand our own thoughts and to better articulate our needs to God. Journaling is a great way to stay on task and keep ourselves from getting distracted. More often than not my prayer life is more like a series of texts or bitmojis sent to the Big Man Upstairs. And it’s often more SMH than LOL, amiright?
Dear 8lbs. 6oz. Baby Jesus, Heal us of our screen blindness and show us true connection this Advent season!
Saint Lucy, pray for us!
Originally posted for TheCatholicOutpost.com on December 13, 2016.