catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 22 :: 2012.12.07 — 2012.12.20


Reading the newspaper

A physical liturgy

We only get the Sunday paper, and I insist on that mostly for the coupons. I don’t sit and read it with a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings, either. I typically read it in the car on the way home from church. Even then, I rush through, scanning down the page until I see something that grabs my attention. I am a product of the digital age: short attention span, demanding immediate information, drawn to the visual.

I feel like the Internet is this huge Information Drive-Thru. We can stop by and quickly pick up whatever tidbit of information we need at the moment. Yesterday’s order was who won the election; today’s was what the temperature will be this weekend. (Oh, and add a large side of meaningless entertainment news, please.) The problem is that just as fast food is bad for our bodies, the one-stop-information model is damaging our spirits. I’m more appreciative of food that I have to wait for, or even work for; I savor it and feel thankful. When I demand immediate gratification, I rob myself of the chance to feel true gratitude. We don’t have to work at things anymore. I am convinced that if we do not slow down and make ourselves do the hard work, we are going to lose sight of our humanity.

Orthodoxy Christianity is very much a physical faith. We fast from meat and dairy for roughly half the year; we stand for almost the entire liturgy each Sunday; we cross ourselves and prostrate ourselves often. In Orthodoxy, every movement, smell and sound is a reminder of a spiritual truth. Liturgy means “the work of the people,” and we take that seriously. I have to admit it’s exhausting sometimes.

Yet in some mysterious way, it nourishes the spirit. There’s a steadiness to such a physical faith, a spirituality that’s not ethereal and abstract, but that gets reinforced with every motion. Even when I’m not particularly feeling spiritual, going through the motions helps me find God again. The physicality of the work draws me into a place of spiritual peace.

Likewise, the physicality of reading a newspaper or a magazine or a book can be a joyful experience. Feeling pages between my fingers is much more fulfilling than touching a screen. The newspaper is a concrete, three-dimensional piece of the outside world that I can hold in my hands. If we can learn to slow down enough to appreciate that physical aspect, I think the newspaper can survive as a meaningful part of our lives.

A few Sundays ago as I was perusing the Tennessean, the headline “Nashville’s Somalis Embrace Election” caught my eye. As an ESL teacher, I’ve worked with several Somali students and families. Attending school was new for most of my Somali students. They had lived on the run, finding temporary homes in primitive refugee camps. Some of them struggled with things as simple as holding a pencil and using toilet paper. But they wanted to learn, and their faces lit up with big smiles anytime they used a new English word or phrase to communicate.

I actually skimmed the article first because it was long, but then I made myself go back and re-read it. It was a wonderful article about Somali-Americans who had immigrated to Nashville, become American citizens, and were voting in the presidential election. The journalist described the tragic, war-torn past of many Somali families and their journey to American citizenship. She noted the lack of democratic elections historically in Somalia and the frustration these Somali-Americans had with all the political rages on Facebook and the plethora of negative ads on TV. For them, she said, “American elections are a miracle.” As I read the article, I imagined my Somali students, all grown up and pushing that red “Cast Vote” button.

After reading the article, I found the online version of it and did what we all do and posted the link on Facebook. A friend of mine who lives in Utah read it and shared the link with all of her Facebook friends as well. Yes, the Internet is a useful tool when we want to share important information with the world. But in this case, it started with a girl sitting down to read the newspaper.

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