Mark D. Roberts

Part 6 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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Today I finish up my Lenten reflections on Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything by James Gleick. Let me begin with a quotation from the book:

Who knew that the inconvenience of old-fashioned letter-writing provided a buffer? Highway engineers learned that they could ward off freeway congestion by holding back cars at the entrance ramps, forcing them to wait at seemingly pointless red lights – for their own good, in the long run. In the same way, the unavoidable delays in volleys of business communication before fax, before FedEx, and before E-mail, served as pauses for thought. A lawyer could reconsider a rash piece of mail while it was in the stenographer’s out-box. Decisions could ferment during accidental slow periods.
Perhaps we simply have not had time to adjust. We may need to set aside formal time for deliberation, where once we used accidental time. (KL 1248-1255)

As I have illustrated from my own work experience over the last twenty-five years, the pace of communication at work has increased dramatically, owing mostly to technological innovations. When I receive an email, the sender expects a quick response. And, usually, I make a quick response. In many cases this is just fine. But sometimes my responses are too hasty. Sometimes I fail to give my thoughts the time they deserve because “faster” is part of the DNA of email.
I am generally less inclined to take time to think about my emails than I would be if I were using older forms of communication. I’m sure that, at times, this leads to superficiality and even error because I haven’t thought enough about what I really ought to write.
But I am not necessarily trapped by the email ethos of speed. I can, if I wish, decide to say “No” to hurry and “Yes” to thoughtfulness. For example, every now and then I respond to an email with a quick response that says something like this: “Thanks for your email. I want to acknowledge that I received it, but I also want to take time to digest it before I respond. If you don’t hear back from me in a week, feel free to poke me.” (Someone recently took me literally, in a digital mode, that is, by becoming a Facebook friend so she could “poke” me.)
It is hard, however, to step back from what is expected and common. If we’re used to rushing our responses and if our corporate culture expects us to hurry, then we won’t slow down unless something incisive interrupts us, inviting us to take time for deliberation and reflection. That something just might be Lent. Perhaps some of us need to fast in Lent, not from food or other pleasures, but “fast” and “faster.”
Last Saturday I was forced to slow down. I decided to burn a large pile of brush that had accumulated in my back yard. Yes, this is legal where I live in Texas. And, yes, given recent rains and the placement of my brush pile, it was quite safe. But I had never done anything like this before. When I first lit the pile, it was soon a raging inferno. I had to stand about fifteen feet back in order not to be burned. But, before long, the flames and subsided. The leaves that had collected at the bottom of the pile, and which were still quite wet from the rain, took forever to burn. They smoked and smoldered for hours.
I didn’t want to leave my burning brush for reasons of safety. So, for a while, I found jobs to do that allowed me to stay nearby. I cut down a couple of small dead trees and turned them into firewood for next winter. But after a while I ran out of chores. So I took a beach chair, placed it near the fire, and sat. I sat and sat and sat and sat.
At first I thought of all the things I wasn’t getting done. But, I reasoned, it was Lent and Lent is a time to slow down. So I sat some more. I thought. I reminisced. I prayed. And I sat. After a while, I found my internal clock slowing down. I enjoyed watching the smoke and not worrying about what I wasn’t accomplishing. I can’t remember when I sat so long just doing “nothing.” Funny, isn’t it, how I tend to think of resting, reflecting, and relaxing as doing “nothing.”
Maybe I should resolve always to burn my brush pile during Lent. It might enforce a healthy fast from fast.

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