Screens, Pictures, Fun: We Are What We Contemplate
“The woman saw the tree was good for food, was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree beautiful to contemplate, she took its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).
We become what we contemplate. Eve fixed her eyes on the fruit of the forbidden tree and contemplated its beauty. The way a painting or sunset can mesmerize a person, or a beautiful woman dumbfound a man, Eve was caught up in a worshipful spell when she contemplated the apple. From the eyes, to the heart, to the soul. What do we spend our time looking at, listening to, touching, or tasting — God, nature, art, television, video games, pictures? We become what we contemplate. What we contemplate becomes our worship. What we worship, determines our eternity.
“When he had finished speaking, [Our Lord] said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break” (Luke 5:4-6).
Fishing is a transcendental experience, and every fisherman knows it (though he may not put it this way). Something moves the soul deep down, when you get in the zone, sitting quietly on a boat, waiting and watching. You almost become one with the water. Well, Simon had been in that zone. He had watched. He had contemplated, and what were the results? “All is vanity and a striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14). “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”
Then, our Lord told the fisherman: “Launch out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
ἐπανάγαγε εἰς τὸ βάθος
Launch out. Push yourself forward. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” In what direction do we launch forward? Into the deep — εἰς τὸ βάθος. When the earth was void and without form, all creation was one abysmal depth, a great βάθος. St. Paul expounds on the βάθος in God: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33; 1 Cor. 2:10).
To launch out into the depth — this is the definition of contemplation.
Look beyond the surface. Strain your soul into the depth of things. Gaze. Listen. Ponder. Ruminate. Celebrate. “Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…their beauty is their confession,” St. Augustine insisted. To be human is to contemplate, Aristotle taught us — to look beyond the appearance of things. An old medieval manuscript says it all: “Ubi amor ibi oculus” — “Where love is, there the eye is also.” We can only know what we love, and we only love, what we first touch, taste, smell, hear, and see.
We become what we contemplate, but this poses a challenge. St. Paul discussed the βάθος of God. In his Revelation, St. John discussed the βάθος of Satan (Rev. 2:24). Eve contemplated. But what did she contemplate? “The tree was good for food, was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree beautiful to contemplate, she took its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6). Jesus Christ warns us plainly: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness”.
We live in a crisis today of contemplation.
We contemplate all the wrong things. From morning to evening, we are bombarded with noise, images, and distorted reality.
The CDC reports that children between the age of 8 and 18, spend an average of 7.5 hours daily in front of a screen — over half of that is spent watching television. Teenagers spend nearly 9 hours a day on social media. Across the world, other statistics conclude, the human race now dedicates about 44% of waking hours to phones, computers, televisions, and screens — 44% — nearly half of the day is “plugged in.” This stat does not include time spent listening to music or radios, looking at billboards and advertisements, being entertained, or otherwise, cut off from reality.
Do we get this? Can we take to heart the real cataclysmic meaning of what is happening?
Christianity is imploding. The West is drowning. Our children our abandoning faith by the droves. Professors and grade school teachers, politicians and car mechanics…normal people…are espousing sin and perversion everywhere you look. Meanwhile, we Christians mosey along…we talk a lot…but what are we doing?
In the 1970’s, philosopher John Senior wrote about a crisis in modern education. His students showed up to college with plenty of information in their head, but no real contact with reality. They had not learned to gaze at the stars. They did not know how to appreciate classical music and poetry. They did not know logic. They could regurgitate, but not think. His biographer writes:
“Fed on materialism, impregnated by Relativism and blasé, the average student escaped into cheap enjoyments. Not recognizing the deep hunger for truth within themselves, like starving people who are not given healthy food, they gulped down spiritual junk food that made them fall into the illusion that their hunger had been satisfied. Students suffered from a sickness that we might call ‘spiritual obesity,’ which prevented them from growing wings, and ascending toward the stars” (Fr. Francis Bethel).
That was the 1970’s. Where are we now? Are we in touch with reality?
We can talk all day long about sending our children to youth camps once a year or Sunday School on the occasion. We can pride ourselves for showing up at church on a feast day, giving up a burger on Friday, or saying a couple of prayers before bed. Perhaps we will dedicate hours to the bickering and pontificating on Orthodox internet forums about theological topics we do not understand.
How are we living? What is really filling and shaping our souls? What are we soaking in, bathing in, drinking in, all day long in those moments when we are not “being religious”?
Whether aware of it or not, we are all in a constant state of contemplation. Our soul is absorbing and being transformed by everything we encounter. To say we are homo-connecticus or homo-adorans is one and the same thing. We become what we contemplate. What we contemplate becomes our worship. What we worship, determines our eternity.
We live in a crisis, but we also live with hope.
It does not matter if it is the 21st century or the 1st century, or whether or not we live in a city or a little country homestead. Wherever we are we have a choice to make.
Will we allow our focus to get sucked up into our screens? Will we allow the entertainment industry and consumeristic gurus dictate how we spend our time, where we give our attention, the loves and idols of our heart?
Will we, as John Senior puts it, choose to smash our televisions? Will we choose to unplug, to sit in silence, to fast from stimulation and intoxication? Will we choose to fix our hearts on God in Reality?
We have a choice, and the choice is urgent.
Who will we contemplate? Who will we worship?
“He said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break” (Luke 5:4-6).
Go in peace.