When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my mother’s stories about growing up in our shared hometown of Muskegon, Michigan in the 1950s and 60s. She would fondly recall walking home from the old brick building that housed her elementary school, stopping at Ryke’s Dutch Bakery and slowly munching the delicate butter cookies the baker would give schoolchildren for a few pennies. I also remember my astonishment when she told me that in order to have written lyrics to a song, she had to play it on the record player over and over (and over and over) again so she could transcribe them herself. Whoa, I thought. Thank heavens for perfectly packaged CDs complete with album artwork and lyrics sheets!
Now that I’m a little older, I sometimes wish I could go back to a time when I couldn’t pre-order my favorite band’s album on Amazon a month before its release or have the lyrics to almost any song just a few clicks away on Google. I dream of trips to the neighborhood grocery store where the clerks know you by name, of family dinners without a multitude of distractions, of spending time with friends without the sounds of texting and Facebook notifications.
The older I grow, the more I find myself longing for authentic living. For a culture that speaks reverently about mystery instead of giving its worth to all things convenient.
My fiancé and I recently spoke about these subjects at length after his decision to terminate his Facebook account. I told him about how hard it would be to delete mine. “I have so many Facebook Friends whose lives I’m curious about, pictures I want to see, posts I want to be able to read.” He then made a point that gave me a feast of food for thought: “But are these people even authentically your friends? Do you talk to them at least once a year? Are they people you would ask to have coffee with?”
These questions helped me realize how starving our technology-obsessed culture is for authenticity; and perhaps even more so, how we seem to defeat our own search for it.
We long for community, so we spend more time on Facebook. We desire to be more connected to the arts, so we look up poetry and art on Google and find new music on iTunes.
We yearn to live deeply rich, beautiful authentic human lives and yet waste so much time propped in front of all things virtual.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my love for the Roman Catholic Church continues to deepen and expand as I increasingly yearn for authentic living and mystery. This year’s Triduum certainly smacked me in the soul with mystery as I meditated on Christ’s Passion and Resurrection and unsuccessfully attempted to wrap my mind around the infinite love and mercy of God. Mystery and authenticity surrounded me as I sat next to my newly Confirmed fiancé, the smell of chrism aloft in the air, incense soaking its scent into the pages of the missalette, the deep love of Christ within the faithful gathered moving me to tears. It was the most truly human I had felt in a long time.
The more I investigate my beloved Faith, I am often surprised by the theology of authentic living that lies quietly within Catholic Tradition. Catholic spirituality truly embraces authentic living. It calls us to love God and others deeply with a self-emptying love that pulls us out of ourselves and into genuine relationships. It asks us to re-evaluate our lives and humbly assess what we have too much of, in ways both physical and intangible, that prevent us from living an authentic life of faith. It beckons us to participate in the Mystery of the sacraments despite our inability to fully understand these gifts of grace. Catholic spirituality asks us to turn off our computers, silence our cell phones and breathe into our lungs the love of God and His desire to draw near to us.
I know I will continue to clumsily balance my desire for authentic living with my preoccupation with technology and convenience. But as long as my soul can rest in the arms of prayerful silence and my knees upon worn, creaky pews before Christ Himself, I think there’s hope for this frazzled creature. I’m willing to bet that there’s hope for the rest of humanity, too.