Ordinary Life / Pluralistic World / Work and Rest

Busy, fast and distracted

Last month I sat in a coffee shop in Portsmouth, NH —if you are ever in that lovely coastal city do have coffee at Cup of Joe, a delightful spot— and watched. I had a book with me but never opened it. I had chosen a seat in the window overlooking the street and cobblestone sidewalk and just sat quietly, sipping my latte and watching. People came and went, walking by on their way somewhere, perhaps to work or shop or to visit one of the many galleries that line the downtown street, or to meet someone. It was a lovely hour and a half.

When I look at life I see layers of meaning, knowing that reality has both a natural and a supernatural realm. Some natural things, like art and music and persons and sweet corn and wine and fresh bread and goldfinches hint of transcendence, shimmering with glimpses of glory, pregnant with metaphorical purpose beyond themselves. These brief hints are always in shadow in this broken world, of course, and do not easily reveal themselves. And in the brokenness that so shatters reality the spirit of the age acts to squelch them, like smog that we get used to but that blinds us to the truth.

The smog that morning, it seemed to me, has a name: Busy Fast & Distracted.

I’m not being critical of the good people of Portsmouth. There are good reasons to be busy, to move fast, and because multi-tasking is a hoax we finite creatures are easily distracted. But then like all smog it can start to seem normal and then we never know what we aren’t seeing.

As Much As You Can
And if you can’t shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.

Try not to degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social events and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.

[C.P. Cavafy, transl., Keeley/Sherrard]

I’m also not implying that I am better than the busy, fast and distracted people who moved past Cup of Joe that morning. I was on vacation and so could be expected to slow down and smell the sweet aroma of freshly ground beans. But now I am home and piles of accumulated mail, a full inbox and postponed tasks beckon furiously for my attention.

What I want to avoid is to be a Christian that sees reality and live life as if Naturalism is true. To see the here and now and mistake it for all that is. To see a goldfinch and imagine, if only for a moment that it does not offer a glimpse into the something more that though unseen is as real as what is seen. To think that productivity defines my worth; to forget that speed, so vital in ping pong competition is fatal in relationships; to fail to push back against the creeping addiction of media and screens; to be so busy, fast and distracted that unhurried conversations are unknown to me.

“We are always,” Ellis Potter notes, “in the presence of the supernatural, God and eternity and are encouraged by the Bible to be aware of that all the time.” The spirit of the age aims to make me less aware, and as smog it smears the glass through which I peer so that I see less and thus live and love less.

I cannot escape the spirit of the age—it permeated even into the quiet respite of Cup of Joe. It sifts into my office like a fine dust as I write this, and though it takes various forms in various ages it will always hover in the air we breathe until the King returns. But it need not define how I see.


Pome by Matthew Ogle; short modern poems for your inbox from pome@mattogle.com.

The Cloud of Knowing by Ellis Potter (Destinée S. A.; 2018). 19.