Monday, February 12, 2007

Learning to pay attention

Norman Wirzba spoke twice today, once at the university and once at the library and both talks were very interesting. I have a lot to process but just a couple of thoughts tonight.

One of the things he talked about at lunch was the way in which money insinuates itself into our social relations and because it is impersonal it creates distance between people. It made me think about how often faculty lament that students see education as a commodity they have purchased rather than an apprenticeship they have entered into.

It also seemed connected to a conversation I had a couple of days ago with another clergyperson about taking lottery/gambling money to do renovations on the church. Groups can apply for grants from the Wild Rose Foundation, money which comes from gambling in the province. A recent issue of Walrus magazine outlined the way in which Alberta is especially addicted to gambling revenues. From my pastoral experience I can say that gambling can be a blight on people's lives and I detest the way in which sports and community groups are encouraged to work casinos to raise money to fund their activities. I see absolutely no justification for churches to apply for money raised in this way. He thinks money can be used for good even if it comes from an evil source.

After listening to Norman today I occurred to me that this argument for taking money is essentially a reflection of this notion that because money is impersonal it isn't really connected to its source. I wonder if it wasn't money that we got if we wouldn't think differently about gambling revenues. Like, what if people gambled away their wedding rings and the government gave those rings to the soccer club or the church for them to hock. Maybe then we would be a little more appalled by this system. Maybe it is because I have known families devastated by gambling but I can't imagine ever seeing that money as clean.

Tonight he talked about what the monastics call stability. He suggested that professors often encourage their students to think that life is somewhere else rather than encouraging them to stay in the places they grew up. He said that when people go someplace new because they are bored where they are that they end up bored again because they take the boredom within them. He suggested that we learn the discipline of patient attention to the place where we are. It takes time and effort to really get to know a place and only then can we really delight in it.

The theme of paying attention came up a lot in all his talks. It is an idea that runs through Iris Murdoch's novels and one that has long intrigued me since I first discovered her in grad school. She talks about it a lot in terms of relationships. I suspect that when we get bored by our friends or lovers and go looking for new people that we also take our boredom with us.

And now on the theme of finding rest and delight or maybe delightful rest I'm going to bed. Tomorrow is another long day in a long week. Reading week is next week!

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