Arthur Boers writes compelling about living more purposefully in “Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions.” In this new book, he encourages us to find those activities that “center us” and pursue them. ,The media bombards us every second of the day in this modern world, he explains. But he encourages us to slow down and relish life, to learn to seek the spiritual through the physical.
He introduces the idea of “focal practices,” which can be anything that fulfills and centers us: walking, running, canoeing, quilting, cooking, playing musical instruments . . . the list goes on and on. Yes, Boers’ focal practices would have been called “hobbies” forty years ago . . . and many of them were simply called “living” forty years before that. There was a time when you wanted a warm sweater, you knitted it. If you needed a new mixing bowl, you carved it. Boers argues people in the past were closer to God, experiencing daily moments of grace, of rightness with the world, than we are. Honestly, I wonder, did being closer to the earth, to its rhythms and workings, root them? Or did fighting hunger, cold, and disease, produce its own distractions? We do have unprecedented challenges, but human nature has not changed. People today face the world’s brokenness in a different way.
On What She Said, a women’s blog on Patheos’ Family Portal, we’ve had spirited debate about the organic movement, which Boers links to the concept of focal practices– the need for a richer, fuller life. For mothers, many focal practices center on creating a calmer, better home for their families. In defense of domestic endeavors, I wrote,
We yearn for the rituals of the year, for tying our food to the season that produces it, for creating a home that is steeped in purpose and meaning. We knead dough and know that countless women through the ages have stood where we stand, hands sticky and floured, feeding the ones they love . . .Our domesticity becomes a form of prayer.
For me, and I think for many mothers, focal practices are very simple: preparing good meals for the family (not always a quiet task, especially with little helpers learning the ritual), joining the children on their play set, walking the neighborhood with the dog and kids in tow, reading them stories at bedtime. Most recently, I am learning to knit since my eight-year-old wants to learn. I assume she will need some daily guidance along the way, so I better get ahead of her! In many ways, a parent’s focal points are aimed at teaching the children how to find their own way.
We have been given this age, this era–the era of distractions but also of ibuprofen and ear tubes and planes and instant communication. All eras are fallen, with fallen people living in them. This technological era is our gift and our challenge. Too often we embrace the new without any reflection at all. During this Lenten season, let’s reflect on not just what we do, but why we do it, and let’s strive to use our technological gifts to bring us closer to God instead of allowing them to distract us from Him.