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Living In The Real World
– And Really Living
By Fr. Stephen Freeman
“To live” is an active verb. The passions of mass experience are something else.
Nothing exists in general. If something is beautiful or good, it
is manifest in a particular way at a particular time such that
we can know it. And this is our true life. A life lived in a
“generalized” manner is no life at all, but only a fantasy.
However, this fantasy is increasingly the character of what most
people think of or describe as the “real world.”
A monk lives in a monastery. He rises early in the morning and
prays. He concentrates his mind in his heart and dwells in the
presence of God. He will offer prayers for those who have
requested it. He will eat and tend to the work assigned for him
to do. And so he lives his day. He works. He prays.
And someone will say, “But what does he know about the real world?”
But what can they possibly mean? He walks on the earth. He
breathes the same air as we do. He eats as we do and sleeps as
we do. How is his world any less real than that of anyone else
on the planet?
A man lives in a city. He wakes in the morning, turns on the TV
as he gets ready for the day. He dashes out the door (he’s
running late). He gets to his car, listens to the news on the
radio, takes a couple of calls on his cell phone. He gets to
work and for every minute he does something that he thinks of as
“work,” he spends at least another checking his email, looking
quickly at Facebook, and maybe checking the news. He gets into
an argument at lunch about what should be done somewhere else in
the world and who should do it. Angry and distracted, he is
frustrated with himself because he swore he was not going to
have that same argument today. He goes back to work with the
same routine. After work he drops by a bar, has a couple of
drinks and decides to stay and watch some of the game. He gets
home late and heads to bed.
Who is living in the real world? The man-in-the-city’s life is
“real,” it actually happens. But he is distracted all day from
everything at hand. He never notices himself breathing unless
he’s out of breath. He swallows his food as quickly as possible.
Even the beers he has at the bar are as much for the buzz as for
If the man refrained from these things his friends might taunt
him, “What are you? Some kind of monk?”
What is the “real” that we should live in?
Increasingly, the modern world lives in distraction. But on
account of the dominance of shared media experience, that
“distraction” is treated as somehow “real.” The daily, sometimes
non-stop, attention to this distracted “reality,” creates a
habit of the heart. It is a common experience for someone “cut
off” from this shared media experience to feel isolated and
alone. Of course, three days of no media changes nothing. My
attention to the distraction is not at all the same thing as
attention to the world itself. For whatever reality might be, it
is decidedly not the distorted snapshots presented in our
The experience of “reality” that is media-generated has the
character of “things in general.” The habits that form within us
as we give attention to this abstraction are themselves vague
and ill-defined. We “care” about something, but we have nothing
in particular that we can do about it. We are angry over
extended periods about things that are greatly removed from our
lives. Our attention itself becomes a passive response rather
than a directed movement of the soul. Our lives largely become
an experience of manipulation – only it is we ourselves who are
Against this is the life of Christian virtue. It is little wonder that
frustration accompanies our efforts towards acquiring the
virtues. The soul whose habits are formed in the distracted
world of modernity cannot suddenly flip a switch and practice
prayer of the heart. We sit still and attempt to pray and our
attention wanders. It is little wonder that our attention
wanders. It has been trained to be passive and follow a media
stream. In the stillness of the soul, there is no media stream
and our attention feels lost and empty.
This is the reason for the life of the monk. He lives as he does in order to
be attentive to reality – to see and hear, taste and touch what
is true and at hand. It is not so different than most human
lives 200 years ago, before the rise of mass culture. And it is real.
Deeply real. It is also the basis of the sacramental life. God
gives us Himself, His life-creating grace, in very concrete and
particular ways. The reason is simple – we were created to live
in a concrete and particular way. The life of abstraction is
alien to the life of grace. There is no sacrament of the
abstract, vague or general. The only Presence is a real
If we want to pray, then we will have to live as though we are praying. We cannot live in the abstract and suddenly attend to the real. We cannot “care” and then turn to love.
“To live” is an active verb. The passions of mass experience are
Monastic chores that benefit the brotherhood
working man multi-tasking for personal “benefits”
Fresh meals prepared for brotherhood and pilgrims
Modern man with no time
for fresh family meals
Monastic life communicating with Nature – “live”
Modern generation communicating... “real-time”
Article published in English on: 7-6-2019.
Last update: 7-6-2019.