A few weeks ago, a guest post on friend and fellow racial-equity advocate Tom Adams’ website discussed an interesting reaction to visiting baroque churches in Italy during a recent sabbatical. Tom’s friend, Tuck Grinnell, found himself overwhelmed by “too many paintings – too many angels” and thinking about “our human tendency to continually renovate our churches, our houses, our neighborhoods. Every generation, it seems, has felt the need to redo, or redecorate, or redevelop.”
There’s certainly a deep truth to that—and perhaps it’s a visceral response to the modernist Western love affair with the newest, brightest, and shiniest things. But my mind went in a different direction. I found myself thinking of the churches I visited in Italy (like the one above in Siena) and the overwhelming sensory input that people receive in a place like that.
I find a real parallel in the flood of information coming to us through the Internet and social media these days. It can be too much to take in—and the contrast with monastic church buildings like this one (also in Italy) is stark. These monks surely realized the importance of not being overwhelmed by too many paintings, angels, and gold accents. Here, the eye and heart are less distracted. The monks were probably more able to focus on God because there wasn’t so much around to divert their attention.
I don’t believe this means we need to shut off the flow of information entirely. The monks still used the Bible, prayer books, and the writings of their forefathers in the monastic tradition. They were edified perhaps inspired by the few religious decorations deliberately placed around the sanctuary. They were also stimulated by God’s creation when they walked outside the church doors and were confronted with the fields, flowers, and flocks that were given into their care.
We also need to choose just a few wise voices and images and use them to help us reflect more deeply, especially when we are overwhelmed. I periodically remove myself from email lists when I find I’m not making time to read what those worthy organizations and individuals send—even though they are worthy. The point is that we cannot do it all. We are human beings, not machines.
And yes, I recognize that I am, in essence, also inviting you to consider whether my reflections are helpful at this point in your life or not. That’s okay. This blog is not a capitalist endeavor for me. It is a window into my spiritual life that I choose to share with whomever the Spirit brings in my virtual door.
Perhaps that sense of becoming overwhelmed is resonating for you too. As I noted two weeks ago, this is for me a season of allowing the ground to lie fallow. One way to do that will be to slow the stream of digital input. I’ll suggest another image next week, rising out of last year’s pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
Meanwhile, I invite you to consider what level of stimulation feels right for you in this season of your life. What changes do you need to make in daily rhythms or sensory input to support a deeper connection with yourself and the divine?