A Gathering Voices post by Lynne M. Baab
I wrote last week about a Newsweek article focused on the changes to the brain in people who spent a lot of time online. One of those changes involves shrinkage of parts of the brain responsible for processing of speech, memory, motor control, emotion, sensory and other information (Newsweek, July 16, 2012), which has scary implications for congregations. I wrote the week before about the notion of “holding environments,” places where horizontal relationships with people and the vertical relationship with God are nurtured. This week I’d like to juxtapose these two ideas.
The characteristics of holding environments include
- a safe and reliable physical space
- psychological holding, the ability to foster emotional growth
- thoughtful organization
- secure but adaptive
- care, honesty and trust
- calming emotional support
Keeping those characteristics in mind, now look at this quotation from the Newsweek article: “With consent of the subjects, Missouri State University tracked the real-time Web habits of 216 kids, 30 percent of whom showed signs of depression. The results, published last month, found that the depressed kids were the most intense Web users, chewing up more hours of email, chat, video-games and file sharing. They also opened, closed, and switched browser windows more frequently” (Newsweek, July 16, 2012).
This Missouri State University research conveys to me a kind of frantic movement. Data flies from one computer to another, and on each computer, web pages are opened and closed with great rapidity. In my own experience, rapid movement is great for a while. For short periods of time, it stimulates my brain and makes me feel alive. But after a while, it’s too much.
So many of the characteristics of a holding environment are not rapid and do not involve quick movement. A “safe and reliable space” implies some degree of constancy. “Thoughtful organization” implies some slow and careful thinking. “Secure but adaptive” implies movement at the right time, not constantly. “Calming emotional support” implies something tranquil, still, placid, serene, and peaceful. All of these characteristics make me want to take a deep breath and slow down. And these characteristics stand in direct contrast to the paragraph from the Newsweek article.
Part of what we are doing in congregations is providing an alternative to people’s daily life experience. So much of daily life is frantic, and the online components of daily life may contribute to our sense of rapid pace. Providing an alternative experience is a good and right thing for congregations to do. Moments of quiet in services, slowing down the pace from ordinary life, allowing people to focus on one thing – prayer, scripture, the sermon – rather than five things, seems like a good idea and seems like something that might nurture faith in the God who is the still point in the turning world.
But how do we create a transition between the frenzy of daily life and the peace of God’s presence? Can we realistically expect worshippers on Sunday morning to sink quickly and easily into a placid and serene environment? Can we expect small group members to instantly leave behind the stresses and rapid pace of their lives and focus easily on each other’s needs?
And how do we help people bring a bit of that peace and serenity back into their everyday lives? Often when the minister at our church introduces the congregational prayer time, he says something this: “We pray on Sundays not just because congregational prayer is important. We pray here as a model for all of us to take back into our daily lives.” I wonder how we could do with respect to other aspects of the holding environment we create in our congregations.