The Daily Practice:
NO PHONE UNTIL AFTER A SCRIPTURE PASSAGE
Since the day I got my smartphone, it began invading my morning. With it came the portal to a thousand cheap pleasures, easy doses of numbness, and instant dings of anxiety that quickly filled the moments that used to be quiet.
I believe there are two ways to wake up. One is wake into just another day. The other is to wake up into a new day. I have found that The Common Rule habit of scripture before phone plays a key role in pushing me towards the latter because it actually changes the way I experience time. That is to say it changes the way I see the day unfolding.
The Greeks had two words for the two different senses of time. The first sense was called chronos. Chronos is the perception of time as something that ticks on and on.
We know these days, because these are most of our days. The day after your team lost. The day your job will ask either too much or too little of you. The day you will see another volley of ten million forgettable insults and snide remarks called ‘news’. The day your child is still stick. The day you still can’t conceive. The day your parents are still dying. The day you realize the depression is not leaving. The day where the money you have is still not enough. The day you still are hiding the addiction. The day the war is still going on. The day that thousands of children still wake up hungry. The day that the tumor, whether metaphorical or actual, is still there.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” This is chronos time.
But there is another kind of time, and it happens at the same time, though it is completely different. This kind of time is not about the drudgery of time, but the ripeness of time. In this kind of time, things are newly possible.
The Greeks called this sense kairos. And though we see it less, but it we know it too.
The cancer is in remission. It is New Year’s morning. Tonight, you will say what you mean. Next week the new job starts. The whole family is getting together tomorrow. Someone innocent was finally set free. Your meeting was cancelled and the whole afternoon is open.
My favorite story is Scriptures is where the disciples walk the road to Emmaus in chronos time. They thought that Jesus was going to change everything, but then he was murdered. They are walking in the long shadow of his death, in the shame of a reality where they were wrong about the future. Here, nothing is important anymore, and time just ticks meaninglessly on.
They tell all their woes to a stranger on the road, who walks among them. As they walk the stranger begins to tell the story of scripture to them. They are intrigued. They listen more. They feel a stir of the old excitement. Then they begin to burn. It’s hours into the conversation when they have their moment that will change the rest of their lives. The curtain is pulled back: It’s Jesus. He’s back. He’s alive.
In trying to explain what this kairos was like, the disciples say that “their hearts burned within them.” Because suddenly, everything is changed. With the risen Jesus comes eternal kairos, you see now that nothing is like it seemed. This is a different sort of day.
In kairos time, the world is still complicated but things are going to be OK after all. Because in kairos time the sky is peeled back. You’ve gotten a glimpse of the heavens. This is the moment you realize how the story is going to end, and it’s a good twist, with a good hero. Suddenly, everything has changed.
When it comes to my morning habits with my phone, most have looked like this: The phone alarm goes off. I snooze it. Half listening to the buzzes and dings, wondering what each one brings. When I should not sleep any longer, I pick up the phone while half-asleep, and baptize myself in the chronos of the day’s to-do’s.
I don’t use the word baptize lightly. They run over me and work their power, they change me.
Once in a while it’s an excitement about a certain meeting. More often it’s the dread of more than I can accomplish waiting in my inbox. But whether good or bad news, the posture is the same. I am baptized in tasks and alerts, and I silently begin to believe a certain narrative of what today is about. It is about what am I being asked to do, and what can I get done. Chronos marches on, and I must keep up.
So just like that, I have been made a convert of the central lie of our cultural moment – that the world is about what I can accomplish in it, and what I can make of this life.
I know this feeling. It is a weight that I cannot bear, one that I was not meant to bear. Yet I begin my day dabbling in the strain of it again.
What a radical thing then, to resist. To turn leave my phone untouched. It’s still somewhat new to me. I’ve done it less mornings than not. But I’m becoming hooked.
When the alarm goes off, I shut it off and leave the thing face down and on silent. I feel the floor for a brief prayer. Then I walk downstairs and start the water boiling. Maybe I calm the baby, maybe I need to drum up a breakfast for the kids, but within a few minutes I get to the same seat on the couch and open the scriptures.
There have been times in my life where this was a moral checklist or an obligation to get out of the way. That feeling crops up every now and again. But now, I’m not thinking about that. I’m on the hunt, nosing the hedge for a peace that I need.
It is not to say that each morning is a waterfall of inspiration. Quite the opposite. It’s a bit rote – which, of course, makes it matter all the more.
It’s just a brief moment of kairos that starts the day with a different kind of word. The question is not, What do I need to do today?The questions are, Is the world being redeemed or not? Does this redeemer live? What is His name? Who am I, and who am I becoming?
If I begin in Genesis, it’s a word that the world was carefully formed in order and love. If I’m in a Prophet, it’s the reminder that the poor exist, and God loves them. If I’m in an epistle, it’s a glimpse of a God who both reigns over all things and still intimately loves all things. If I’m in a Gospel or Revelation, it is the word that Jesus has risen, and everything is being made new.
There have been times in my life where there was space in every morning for extended reflection and reading. Those times are exceedingly rare right now. I am talking about five minutes most of the time, fifteen minutes sometimes, and an hour on a few lovely occasions that are nowhere near the norm.
But to quibble about details would be to downplay the weight of the smallest habits. I have traded worldviews by trading routines.
The day will get harder, of course. I’m probably short on sleep. There is indeed a lot to get done today. The children aren’t usually full of sunshine in the morning. When I do pick up the phone, I will still have much to resist. But I’m not out to change the world, I’m only trying to see that it has already been changed. And that it wasn’t by me. I’m trying to remember that nothing is as it seems, that everything means so much.
This is a doorway into kairos time. It’s a glance up beyond the sky to remember that there’s a bang up ending to this whole thing. I just want my heart to burn, if only a little, and if only for a moment.
So I wake up every morning into just another, regular day. Some of us are waking up into extraordinarily difficult times. Some of our brothers and sisters live in the war of Syria. Some of our brothers and sisters are in the war of the American projects. The world is not rosy.
But look up. The Lord is risen, and He is making all things new.
In the scriptures we find that it is Easter again. That God is alive and he has broken the back of death. That is good news, and that is today’s news.
To trade scripture for phone is to do one small thing to try to wake on the road to Emmaus. It is to invite the resurrection to interrupt the morning and remind us of where all of this is headed.
Jesus is risen. He walks with us. Alleluia!
Now then, let us head out for the day, let us get to work. Because suddenly there is so much to work for, so much to live for.