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God once gave the mishmash of people, hardly yet even a tribe, who were trekking through the desert, rebelling today, repenting tomorrow, a simple choice: life or death. It scared and focused them (for a while). In our day the choice is in less religious terms: boredom or wonder.
Our craving for novelty and fresh stimulation extends into every aspect of daily life. We can’t possibly cram everything in and to try is nauseating. Greed, for the desert teachers was the power-fantasy of possessing and controlling everything, which is evidently impossible. But impossible fantasies often control our behaviour, Gluttony is different from greed. In the desert tradition it was the absurd attempt to stuff everything we fantasised about having into our ego, over-consumption to the point of throwing up or harming our beautiful planet. It also changes the way we think.
We measure meaning and values by economic analysis and, increasingly, what is not reduced to quantitative thinking? There’s a computer programme for nearly everything essentially human, even for compassion and therapy. Quantifying the human dehumanises and coarsens of our minds and corrupts our vision of the world. Marco Schloremmer, a renowned AI researcher in our community, told me recently that it is the language we use about AI that causes our dread and anxiety about it. Computers don’t learn. They don’t have memory. They don’t choose. AI is not intelligent. They just do what we program them to do.
If we make them our new idols and transfer our inner power to them we are merely repeating the idolatry ridiculed by the psalmist (Ps 115):
Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.
The danger is not in the idol but in our willingness to subordinate ourselves, to see human consciousness and well-being as inferior or irrelevant. In their years of wandering, those who escaped slavery often got depressed and bored and made idols to comfort themselves. Idolatry fails and eventually bores us to death. The choice for life is usually not comfortable but it is never boring.
Meditation is practiced in the spirit of Lent throughout the year. In these days we can understand why. Meditating is a choice and makes the choice for life. Not always easy, comfortable or convenient. It is repetitious, but never boring.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
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