The Wired Soul, Tricia McCary Rhodes. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016.
Summary: Explores how our communications technology is changing how our minds work in ways that militate against a centered, focused life and introduces practices of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation that help us attend to God in a distracted world.
There is no question that laptop computers, wireless technology, tablets and smartphones, and other electronic devices in our lives have changed the way we live and think. They provide an unprecedented connectedness (during the recent attack at Ohio State, I learned that 150 friends were “safe” in under an hour thanks to a Facebook app). They give us instant access to information and also to consumer opportunities. They also can be a huge source of distraction. The average person checks a smartphone at least 100 times a day. It cuts into productivity, distracts driving, and even interferes with our sleep.
Tricia McCary Rhodes asks the uncomfortable question of how all this affects our spiritual lives and our ability to pay attention to God. Drawing on some of the latest findings in neuroscience, Rhodes writes that this technology, and our use of it literally rewires the neural pathways in our brains. We read differently, we are more easily distracted, we no longer remember things like phone numbers or directions that we once remembered. This has implications both for how we read and reflect upon the scriptures, our ability to slow down, and focus upon and attend to God.
Rhodes draws upon the Benedictine practice of lectio divina and the four most common elements of this practice, to counter the influences of this technology. In each section, she includes not only some basic discussion of the practice, but also exercises that can be done in 15 minutes to an hour, that take us into spiritual practices, indeed alternative liturgies, to use James. K. A. Smith’s terminology, on which she draws, to help us engage with God. These four elements are and the specific practices are:
- Lectio. Here she focuses on both slow and reflective reading. In the slow reading, she has us focus on a single paragraph that we read and re-read, and then reflect upon. In retentive reading she introduces a method of Bible memorization.
- Meditatio. The section on meditation focuses on giving our whole-body attention to God through an exercise that combines breathing, simple motion, and words. The exercise on biblical meditation begins with establishing a clear intention, moves to preparation of the heart, and then uses a set of simple questions to reflect upon a biblical text.
- Oratio. In this section the focus is on prayer. First, she introduces the examen as a way to “pray the texts of our digital lives” and to consider their influence upon us. Then she turns to considering our relationships and the proportion of virtual to real face to face interactions make up our lives. She concludes with encouraging the practice of table conversation over meals.
- Contemplatio. Reflects a movement from stillness in the presence of God into action shaped by that awareness of God. She offers exercises that help to enter into that place of resting in God, and then to return to that contemplative place throughout an active day.
Rhodes is not a Luddite, urging us to throw away our tablets and smartphones. Some of the exercises include their use and she speaks both of the helpful uses of this technology, and her own struggles with it. Most of all, Rhodes gives us some helpful practices to keep technology in its place, to keep it from becoming, in Neil Postman’s words, technopoly that controls and shapes our way of life. Christ followers want a Christ-shaped, rather than iPhone-shaped life. In a simple, readable format, Rhodes introduces us to some practices and helps us to ask some challenging questions that help us to embrace the life to which Christ calls us in a wired world.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.