In the last essay (The Black Mirror – 04/08/18), I tried to show how the passivity bred in us by the “black mirror” of the screens of “fake reality” that surround us completely encase us in an unreal and powerless world. God tries to reach us, but we are too busy to notice since we have eyes only for the fast and dislocated snippets that the screens allow us to see.
But there is another spiritual danger in this reliance on the black mirrors of our present life: it gives the evil one time to lead us down a tragic road straight to sin. An untended mind is the devil’s workshop!
The Desert Fathers of the Eastern Church chart five steps to the commission of sin, only made possible by our inattentiveness to what is occurring in the depths of our consciousness. The first stage is what they called the Provocation. This is what the evil one shoots into our consciousness. It can be a picture or an idea of the benefit of having what is forbidden. We are not responsible for this stage since it comes from the outside and we have no control over it. It is at the second stage that we begin to be responsible. It is when we ‘Dialogue’, or engage, with the Provocation. At this point, we begin to perceive the attractiveness of the idea or picture. We engage with it in that we mull it over and begin to take seriously the possibility that we can see ourselves committing this act. In Western spiritual thought, we talk about ‘entertaining’ the idea. This is a very descriptive phrase since it includes the pleasure that this stage introduces.
What follows in the third stage is very subtle. In the depths of our spirits, we utter a single word: ‘yes’. Perhaps it is less than a word—maybe just a nod. This affirmation is the gateway to the commission of the evil. It may not go past this stage since we may lack the courage to accomplish the sin, but our guilt remains since it is clear that if we could get away with it we would do it.
The fourth step in this analysis of sin is that we begin to give the affirmed action a lot of imaginative attention. With every minute we spend thinking on it, enjoying the possible commission of the action, we empower this sin and make it almost a done deal. In a sense, we feel we have to commit it for a whole host of reasons.
The last step is the commission of the sin, which is always tragic since it takes a stand against God, the Church, the Created World and all people of good will. What follows is momentary pleasure and then guilt, shame, hiding, depression, rationalizations and the possible way out of the vicious circle we have placed ourselves in: the small amount of pleasure we felt and hence the possible and then actual commission of the sin again.
This pathway of sin always leads us away from Christ. It is made possible by the passivity engendered by the evil one who goes from being the encourager of the sin to the accuser against us.
The only way to the brilliant dawn of the peace that no one can take away from us is to be on guard against the provocations of the evil one. Watch carefully the angers and resentments that occupy our thoughts; be proactive in defending ourselves from the evil one’s onslaughts.
While this negative function of protective engagement is essential for our spiritual well-being, the passivity that is the result of our black-mirror lives is even more pernicious with regard to all the graces God wants to give us, if we but notice his gentle calls on our behalf. How strange it is that God wants to give us a treasure, but we refuse His offer by our intransient attention to the trifles of the digital world; in the end, they are distractions from the main event of our future that is happening or trying to happen. The tragedy is that we do not notice, buried alive as we are in the tomb of the Internet! How very sad!
The antidote to this passivity is in the active engagement in prayer as the primary focus of our lives, for it is in prayer that God communicates and that we accept the grand partnership of a covenantal relationship with the Almighty. To prefer the accumulation of pixels that is the mirage of the black mirror is the most serious tragedy of our lives.
This is why St. Paul, centuries before this virtual onslaught, warned the early Christians to pray ceaselessly; that is, at every moment we have to direct ourselves to God who will protect us from the provocations of evil and keep us in the present moment where we will encounter the brilliant dawn of His grace.