Being a T.S. Eliot aficionado finally came in handy when, last night at a trivia pub quiz, one of the questions asked which 20th century poet is best known for the poem “The Wasteland.”
But I digress. Today’s T.S. Tuesday post features an excerpt from my favorite Eliot poem, Burnt Norton from Four Quartets.
“Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs”
That line: “Distracted from distraction by distraction.” How is it possible that Eliot wrote that line before Facebook and Twitter and obsessive email checking and iPhone dinging? Heck, how did he write it before the invention of the internet or even computers?
Apparently, we’ve always had trouble concentrating; the internet just eases our way into distraction by many memes and web browsers.
As I try to set a schedule, a rhythm, a structure for my life, I want to find ways to minimize distraction. To step out of a haze of “Tumid apathy with no concentration.”
To AWAKE and remain awake. To the mighty movements of God. To the places of pain of those around me. To the gracious gifts of a generous Giver. To the opportunities for engagement, encouragement, connection.
I can choose to be awake, to notice. In the moments on the microbus, with my head bent down and shoulders pressed up to the ceiling, crammed next to old women with their woven baskets and old men who smell of sweat and too much cologne. As the bus boy yells out our destination and we careen up the mountain to the small town where I work. Even then, amidst the cacophony of indigenous languages and holding on for dear life, I can choose to notice the glory of God’s creation, the diversity of people and backgrounds and destinations that await us all. I can choose to take a moment to pray, to give thanks, to be awake.
In the moments at work, as I sit in front of a computer and will myself to stay off Facebook, I can choose to invite God into my work, into the words that tick across the screen. I can ask Him to bless my efforts, to give thanks for the brain He has given me and this opportunity to create as He creates. I can be awake.
In the moments alone in my room, when I miss my friends and family from back home, when I miss their bubbling laughter and quirky schemes, I can turn the longing into a prayer. I can take out my prayer cards scrawled with hopes and dreams and words of encouragement built up over half a year of missing and praying for their good. I can choose to focus. I can choose to pray.
I can awake. I can breathe in His presence.
With each breath of wind in and out of my own unwholesome lungs, I want to be aware of His presence. Aware of the breath of the Divine within me. And ready to be fully present in the tasks at hand. To drive out distraction with direction from the One who breathes in me.