dangerous memory, spiritual practices, and the media

If America’s soul was not already wounded by the violence we impart around the world, it is certainly broken now. Last week we suffered conflict after conflict: the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and the shooting at MIT, etc.  It would be most appropriate to practice “Dangerous Memory” as Johann Baptist Metz taught. It calls us to remember those who are suffering and have suffered. (Consumer-capitalist culture thrives on amnesia, not giving us any chance to remember those who suffered and have died because we are too busy consuming.) As we remember those who are currently suffering, we relate their struggle to the life, suffering, and death of Christ. Yet, Jesus’ life does not end with death, but God/She raised Jesus and we keep this hope for those who suffer. Alongside our remembering and hope in new life, we lament. We cry out to God/She, asking that justice may come. The road of healing and restoration is hard but necessary, and if we are following Jesus, then restoration is the only way.

My practice of  Metz’s “Dangerous Memory” fell short last week, being was consumed by the news, my twitter feed, and NPR. On Thursday morning I stayed in bed all morning until I went to work at 1:30pm listening to NPR.

In our society we retrieve information and news through screens: computer, tablets, television, phone, etc. 24 hour news cycles and up-to-second coverage on Twitter and other news-feeds bombard our minds and hearts. Brother Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk in Kentucky, wrote widely on subjects as war, violence, peace, monasticism, and silence. He is still revered for his writings. Concerning the news, Merton wrote:

I have watched TV twice in my life. I am frankly not terribly interested in TV anyway. Certainly I do not pretend that by simply refusing to keep up with the latest news I am therefore unaffected by what goes on, or free of it all. Certainly events happen and they affect me as they do other people. It is important for me to know about them too: but I refrain from trying to know them in their fresh condition as “news.” When they reach me they have become slightly stale. I eat the same tragedies as others, but in the form of tasteless crusts. The news reaches me in the long run through books and magazines, and no longer as a stimulant. Living without news is like living without cigarettes (another peculiarity of the monastic life). The need for this habitual indulgence quickly disappears. So, when you hear news without the “need” to hear it, it treats you differently. And you treat it differently too.

Merton viewed our obsession with the news cycle the same as an addiction to cigarettes.  We desire to stay on top of everything as it happens and it makes us anxious when we don’t know what is going on. This is a problem. Last week CNN demonstrated that “Breaking News is Broken.” Farhad Manjoo, began his article:

“Inspired by the events of the past week, here’s a handy guide for anyone looking to figure out what exactly is going on during a breaking news event. When you first hear about a big story in progress, run to your television. Make sure it’s securely turned off.

Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC.

Now go outside and take a walk for an hour or two. Maybe find a park and sit on a bench, reading an old novel. Winter is just half a year away—have you started cleaning out your rain gutters? This might be a good time to start. Whatever you do, remember to stay hydrated. Have a sensible dinner. Get a good night’s rest. In the morning, don’t rush out of bed. Take in the birdsong. Brew a pot of coffee.

Finally, load up your favorite newspaper’s home page. Spend about 10 minutes reading a couple of in-depth news stories about the events of the day. And that’s it: You’ve now caught up with all your friends who spent the past day and a half going out of their minds following cable and Twitter.”

Majoo described the same kind of spiritual practice as Brother Merton, only 60 years later. Any intentional engagement in the world that wants to positively affect the whole person: spirit, mind, and body is a spiritual practice. People are beginning to recognize this again as an important factor of life, which explains why yoga, meditation, walking in nature, etc. are making a comeback. Comedian Amy Poelher on her “Ask Amy” Youtube channel explained how her “eyes need a break” from all the tragic images in the news.

I am not saying that we never read or watch the news or not concern ourselves with the global community; it is far too late for that. I am suggesting that the world needs us to be full of love and compassion and we cannot do that if we are busy watching television. If we turn off the television, twitter-feeds, etc. we need to replace them with spiritual practices. These are the most counter-cultural act we can do since  they do not consume anything, hence counter-cultural. You can take your time walking the labyrinth or read a psalm as slow as you want during lectio-divina or meditate by emptying yourself of thoughts and desires. 24 hour news-cycles attempt accuracy, yet they harm viewers with unwanted anxiety. To turn off these fear-intensifiers and to direct our emotions and energies toward prayer, self-care, meditation, and compassion in the community changes the way in which we engage in the world.


Published by brother timothie

I am a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. My interests include constructive theologies, liberation theologies, documentaries, far-left politics, homelessness ministries, creative liturgies, poetry, and pop culture.

2 thoughts on “dangerous memory, spiritual practices, and the media

  1. In a world of movies and television where Saving Private Ryan functions as voyerism and fetishizes violence, I hesitate to include these videos in the post. These videos show real death, and quite frankly, they are horrifying. They turn my stomach, warp my face, and chase tears from my eyes, but then I remember, this is Romero. The distance that we strive to achieve, so as to dismiss him and the impoverished life in El Salvador, must be confronted. We must let these videos both condemn us and draw us, as the life of Christ does. We must let these videos be an incarnation of the dangerous memory of Christ .

  2. Our poverty has to be conscious, deliberate and freely chosen. “Aware that it is easier to adapt to one’s surroundings than to remain faithful to the Gospel, they shall take care that their dwellings, possessions, and manner of life bring them closer to the poor. A Society of rich men (affluent, comfortable, fat men) could hardly claim –that yes, we are a sign to you– that Jesus and Mary are concerned for you and your world” (c.f. C. 226).

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