Among the top ten most dangerous things to do while driving a car are the following: Eating, grabbing something out of reach, putting on makeup, changing clothes, texting, reading, writing, setting your gps, searching for a favorite song on your i-pad, and talking on a hand held cell phone. Can people do those things while driving? I am living proof to each of them, except for the makeup one, that you can. SHOULD they be doing any of those things while they are driving, is a completely different matter. Any action that diverts a driver’s eyes and attention from the road is not a good thing. Distracted driving is a problem. So much so, that we make some forms of it illegal. Driving while intoxicated or under the influence is prohibited.
I wonder, though, if there will ever be the same prohibition for distracted living? Would we ever get pulled over by the ‘holiness police’ for walking through the world half asleep, distracted from what matters by the sheer business of our lives? Or would we ever be arrested by the Swiss Guard because we never had the courage to enter the experience of quiet that would allow us to reflect on the things that matter?
We are not the first generation of people to wrestle with those questions. In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks about the distractions of his days, the things that can cause people to divert their attention from what is of primary importance. People “were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.” These are normal behaviors, no doubt. And there is nothing wrong with them in and of themselves. But I would like to hope that if I saw the Reid’s or the Haley’s building a large boat in their back yard, away from any water, that some kind of alarm would sound. “What do they know that I don’t” should at least be on my radar screen.
But there are Black Friday weekend deals to be had. And cyber Monday opportunities not to be missed. And Christmas cards to get out. And lights to be put up. And gifts to be wrapped. And gatherings to attend. A thousand things can scream at us: Pay attention to ME. And like the dog in the movie UP, we run around saying: “Squirrel! Squirrel! Squirrel!” – so distracted by everything that we focus on nothing.
And those are just the holiday distractions. Somehow, if Jesus were to give this same message in our time, wouldn’t the second part of his message be this: “So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men were watching the Mizzou-A&M football game. One was taken, and the other left. Two teens were on Facebook. One was taken the other was left. These are not bad activities. But, we can be so distracted by them that we lose sight of what matters.
Into that experience, whatever the entry point is for us, comes the message of this Advent season: BE ALERT. Be AWAKE. Don’t miss the opportunity. Don’t miss the possibility. There is so much beauty before you. And so much work to be done to make the kingdom a reality. Don’t be distracted by the trivial that keeps the heart small.
I’d like to invite you to join me in a little Advent discipline that hopefully will decrease our distractibility. I call it ‘The First Five”. It is simple. The first five minutes driving in your car – keep the radio off. The first five minutes at your desk, keep the email/facebook account closed. The first five minutes you walk into the Newman Center or a friend’s house – don’t check your cell phone. Write the words: FIRST FIVE on a post it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror, your computer screen, your car dash board, your TV screen, your kitchen sink – all the places where you are so easily distracted with both things you have to do and things you choose to do. And in those first five minutes, just listen. Just be present. Just pray. Just connect to the silence that can open you to God. Just connect to the needs of your sisters and brothers you meet at the table, in the office, at the store. Give those first five minutes completely to God.
We live in a society where driving while distracted is on the increase. More dangerous to our souls is living while distracted. This Advent Season, take the first five minutes of everything you do, not running around saying “Squirrel, Squirrel, Squirrel!”, but fostering that wakefulness that will bring us into the kingdom.