‘Silent Night’: more than a carol at our house

Matt and Mindy Dalton

As our evening as a family comes to a close, look at all of the technology that distracts us from just “being” together as a family. Mindy is searching for a pair of boots online, while Matt is on the other laptop replying to a few more emails. The kids have finished their homework, and Levi, the youngest, is playing Kinect Sports (because this is at least keeping him active, is our excuse) and the older kids are listening to their favorite country music songs on the iPad.

The noise and faces glued to screens brings this realization: we need to quit all technology by a certain time of night and just be together. Mindy asks everyone to turn off the technology, gather in the living room and “just talk.”

Puzzled looks on their faces, some rolling of the eyes. Levi, the youngest, swings a light saber, imitating the sounds it used to make before the batteries stopped working. How about one minute of silence? That doesn’t sound like too long, but with a 4-year-old still wound up, a minute seems like 10!

A sense of peace starts to permeate our living room and all of us together quiet down. Levi settles in Mindy’s lap and makes the sign of the cross to begin our prayer time together.

Do we take the time to encounter one another?

Advent is upon us, and most children have a Christmas wish list that more than likely includes technology. Technology in and of itself is not bad, but it’s become such a norm for our children and us adults, that we can’t detach ourselves from it. Constantly connected to our job, picking up our phone to Google the latest score of the football game, looking up the name of an actress that comes up during our dinner discussion, or checking our friends’ latest tweets distracts us from encountering one another. We think we are free. Rather, we are imprisoned by our technology, and we are unable to say no to it, to put it down and turn it off.

Free to do what? Free to love as God has called us to love. Truly encountering another person is giving others our full attention; not just simply hearing the other, but listening to them with intention. Being genuinely interested in who they are, where they are coming from and what is going on in their life.

May we encounter one another as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. That is the ultimate encounter, where the King of the Universe, the Creator of All, comes in the form of a precious innocent baby and longs for us to pay attention to him above any and all other things.

Our challenge to all families, including our own, is to put down the technology; collect it prior to dinner and have the kids turn in their phones by 8 p.m. each night. Join us in turning it completely off from the last Sunday of Advent through Dec. 27. Day one and two may be difficult, but I’m guessing that an overwhelming sense of peace and unity will come about by just simply being together as a family.

We have been made a promise by Jesus Christ that wherever two or three are gathered in his name there he is, God in our mist. In the still, quiet and uninterrupted silence of our family, may we find peace listening for the voice of that little babe in the manger.

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.