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November 30, 2011
Electronics, Imagination, and Advent Beauty
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

One cannot travel by public transportation without noticing that most adults and children are engrossed in their electronic devices, which have surely made life safer, and more efficient. With them, life is pleasurable, even satisfying. Nevertheless, their drawbacks have already been noted by parents and educators.

If a child or young adult does not read regularly and often, electronic devices can co-opt language skills and stifle the imagination. Parents are concluding that their young children should develop and mature with the experience of holding a hard copy of a book in their hands. Parents want their children to use their senses to see and touch the pages and pictures, learn how to turn pages properly, and respond to the story by speaking and writing in full sentences as modeled by the book itself. These children are more likely to develop their innate sense of wonder and imagination, two of God’s gift to humankind.  A hand-held device cannot convey the wonder of a book. Similarly, a growing handful of successful computer experts are determining that electronics will be off-limits to their own youngsters. Educators in colleges and universities have decried the poor language skills of students who spend inordinate amounts of time with emailing, texting, and surfing the web instead of reading and reflecting, of thinking independently, and communicating with others, in short, perfecting their language skills and deepening their spirit. Those addicted to electronics often have little time for the essentials that equip young adults to live productive and meaningful lives, and for making or doing beautiful things. Today, the number of children and young adults who speak and write well, and who love the literary and refining arts grows fewer and fewer. All of which brings us to Advent.

Advent Beauty

Of all the liturgical seasons in the Church, Advent luxuriates in beautiful imagery, replete with the rich imagination of the prophets, especially that of Isaiah. In part two of the Book of Isaiah, this “the fifth evangelist,” imagines and even predicts the advent of the Messiah in soaring poetry, captured so beautifully in George Friedrich Händel’s oratorio, “Messiah.” Isaiah expresses the profound longings of the heart which erupt within the spirit regardless of age, but especially during this Advent-Christmas season. Sometimes the heart wants something but doesn’t know what it wants; it can’t put its finger on it. Fingering electronic devices does not satisfy the heart even though they bring the world closer by connecting us to persons, places, and events all over the world.

The readings for the Second Sunday in Advent give comfort from the Lord who is about to come.  The human heart lacks spiritual strength to quiet and comfort oneself. Boldly, Isaiah cries out: “Here is your God!” His strong arms like those of a shepherd caring for his sheep consoles the spirit. It is not a material comfort but a strengthening of the soul to live this pilgrim’s life with deep meaning, a life that is interesting and imaginative. 

Each year at this time, we hear the voice of John the Baptist crying in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord. In biblical times, when villagers were alerted that a dignitary was to visit them, the mandate went out to make their valleys and hills straight, smooth, and plain—no bumps in the road, to facilitate the dignitary’s journey. For us, this exhortation becomes a metaphor for tidying up things on the inside, straightening out the inner life, and making every valley and every hill straight, smooth, and plain for the advent of the king. It takes time and some imagination for these prophetic words to find a home within the individual. This cannot be done in the midst of distractions.

John the Baptist, the bridge between the Old and New Testaments, exhorts the people awaiting the Messiah that he, the Messiah, must increase in importance, and the self must decrease.  If the ego increases and he, the Messiah, decreases, then ege has made oneself the center of one’s world.  A person becomes a narcissist.

Advent is an attitude of mind and a way of living. The season is so lovely with expectation that the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of our hearts. As the fall comes to a close and the darkness of winter begins to set in, Advent affords the individual the space to think about the meaning of life, what is important, and what one is doing with one’s life to leave it more beautiful than when we entered it. It takes quiet time to wonder and to contemplate the beautiful mystery of this season as we wait and hope with great expectation the great mystery of the Lord’s coming again in our midst. Living the exuberant season of Advent is all about transformation into Christ who takes possession of the heart. Then, to be this transforming catalyst wherever we live and work. The whole meaning of being a Christian is to become transformed, bit by bit, into Jesus Christ and “to put on Christ.” 

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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