How much we live in an artificial world: when the weather turns cold, we switch on the heater; on hotter days we resort to fans or air conditioning; the smells around us can be changed according to our whims, or tempered by “fresheners”; when the sun goes down, we switch on lighting so that we can continue our routines, rather than rest; we even switch the clocks around so that our days have more daylight at the end than the beginning; we immerse ourselves in “reality television” which consists of activities, situations and relationships which are far removed from our experience, live as strangers in our neighbourhoods… and so I could go on.
We create a sense of control over life by seeking to create an environment by our own means, yet systematically cut ourselves adrift from the nature and rhythms of the world in which we live. Do these choices actually bring more life to us, or do they cut us off from the very essence of life?
A rural village in Africa welcomed electricity into its midst, and all the opportunities it afforded. Lights in their huts meant that villagers no longer gathered around the fire of the evening but stayed in their family units. The village stories were no longer told; the traditions of the tribe slowly began to die, and the tribe began to fragment as they lost connection with one another, and the skills which sustained the people began to disappear. The elders, in their wisdom, decided to disconnect the electricity, with the result that the tribe once again discovered its identity, and every member their place.
In their own way this tribe realised that they were being inducted into an artificial life which destroyed their humanity. But this is not to say that progress inevitably brings this result. We need to be careful in our time to tune into the rhythms of city life but not to let them kill the rhythms of our own being, nor let them drown out our ability to discern the spiritual rhythms which sustain us.
To be fully human is to understand our own rhythms, and to recognise the impact of the broader rhythms of society on ourselves. If we let society’s rhythms dictate, we risk losing our own identity, yet as we perceive the pulse of life about us, we can negotiate our way to maintaining a life which is real; and one which senses the presence of God in the midst.
November 23, 2003