Cultivated Gardens and Cacophonous Circuses


We don’t have many mirrors in our house, but sometimes I’m shuffling around rooms and I catch a glimpse of myself on some reflective surface. What an unpleasant intrusion! Besides the disconcerting reality of my actual face and proportions (so different from the picture of myself in my head…), those glimpses also reveal to me how often I’m in this house with a screen in my hand, a device in my ear, a pair of VR glasses enshrouding my visage. Just kidding, I don’t have VR glasses. Why, do you know where I can get some?

My point is, there are a lot of electronics in our house. I’m responsible for every one of them. I look around a room and say to my wife, “Looks great, but you know what’s missing? A twenty-two inch monitor!”I hate gardening. 

For some reason, maybe because I’ve turned our house into a buzzing den of energy-sucking machines, my wife has taken to gardening in our backyard. Our garden areas are comparatively tiny, and the flowers and plants she and our daughter nurture aren’t anything grand. I see her find the right time, in the cool of the evening, to water them, repot them, consider their colors and the shapes of petals, the red rotundity of three strawberries. It’s beautiful. And I’m already bored and impatient. Should I go heat up some dinner for us? 

Thanks to my friend, Pastor Albert Hong, I’ve begun reading The Cultivated Life by Susan S. Phillips. She’s a spiritual director and Sociology professor at New College Berkeley, and the book contemplates the spiritual cultivation (read: agricultural metaphors, nurturance, organic growth, other stuff that takes a long time) that runs counter to our contemporary noisiness. Her metaphor for that noisy world is the circus, crowded with entertainments and artifice, sideshows and sugar, flashing lights and fast rides. 

It’s hard to deny that pretty much all of us are intoxicated by the instant pokes and persistent vibrations of our super-programmed digital environs. And actually, when people begin tirades against our “digital media age” and the short attention spans our children are apparently condemned to because of the marketing and manipulation we’ve inflicted on them, I actually bristle a little bit. I think we overstate the case, imagining our own fanciful weekday afternoons bicycling by the creek under tree-shaded sunsets granting us the Wisdom of Ages, waxing self-congratulatory nostalgia against the kids we see who seem perpetually Snapfeeding memekatz or something superfluous like that. It’s classic curmudgeonliness sometimes, to condemn the channels and pay so little attention to what goes through them. Thank God I’m not like those teenagers, obsessed with their cell phones, while they are posting, Lord have mercy, I’m disgusted with myself…

Not all gadgets are evil, and not all gardens are good. That’s beside the point, though. The reality is, I find in my life a wasteland of dead crops, metaphorically speaking, of Genetically Modified Organisms instead of fruitfulness and flowering. Strewn around my soul are enclosures of desiccated, trampled grasses and flooded, gasping planter boxes. 

I find myself obese with media, gluttonous of connectivity, and vomiting communications all over the spiritual terrain of my surroundings. I could easily have the same problem without technology. Just come over and check out the piles of books and boxes of DVDs wallpapering our home. But the problem with my iPhone, tablets (yes that was plural), and laptops is that they torrentially pour this kind of contact into a garden that’s meant to be sprinkled and watered. We’re created to laugh out loud, to poke, to comment, and to share… but at speeds and in seasons that were supposed to be subjected to the rhythms of life. 

So here are a few simple moves of tiny salvation: 

-My phone has stations in my home. It can stay there. I will hear your call/ text/ FaceTime/ FriendRequest/ LinkedInEndorsement when it’s the right time. 

-My bedroom will be a sanctuary of materiality. Tunes with no i, candles with no Kindles, and friends with no profiles.

-I will spend time in the garden, allergies be damned. I will contemplate branches. I will leave my Macbook inside.