When I came to Scotland six years ago, one of the most noticeable differences between here and my homeland was the slower pace of life. Driving in Poland was like taking part in a continuous hectic chasing race. Here most of the drivers were going within the speed limit. But since then I’ve noticed a substantial change in this attitude: it seems that there are more and more drivers going faster and faster. The most common reason (or excuse) for that is the rush and lack of time. I think it signals a much wider change in our lifestyle, as the pace of life gets faster. New means of communication like mobile phones and the internet make keeping in touch much easier and instant, but at the same time push us to instant response and immediate action. We communicate something and expect a quick response. Somehow waiting – associated with regular mail, landline phones and long-haul travel – is not part of our mental equipment any more.
Among the victims of that cultural and mental shift are spiritual or religious practices. In the world of instant answers, prolonged prayers, reading the Bible or attending Mass seem to be a sheer waste of time; time that can be used to go to another supermarket, to watch another TV show or to surf the internet. In a world of instant effects, religious practices seem to be utterly ineffective and subsequently worthless. Why should I ask God for something if earthly businesses respond far quicker and are hence more satisfactory? Modern culture’s perception of religious people spans from harmless oddballs (politely tolerated) to dangerous fanatics (fiercely fought against).
Perhaps something similar was in Simon’s head in today’s gospel, when he was working on the shore. He was observing a group of scroungers sitting and listening to a preacher, while he – a hard working man – was cleaning his nets after an all night long, though unsuccessful, fishing trip. He didn’t have time to waste on listening to pointless and useless religious stuff. Then suddenly the preacher approached him, asking for a wee favour. Perhaps a minute later he deeply regretted his politeness when, instead of cleaning the nets, he was forced to sit idly in his boat to listening this damn preacher. When eventually he finished and told Simon to go for a catch, his instant response was hardly surprising: ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing.’ We could expect this kind of answer from a man who knows his job to a preacher who ‘knows better’. But something must have happened in Simon’s head when sitting in the boat and unwillingly listening to the preacher, because he added: ‘but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ As we know, the result of his decision was the astonishingly rich catch.
Over four years ago I bought my dog to have a good reason to go out each day. Many times since then I have cursed that stupid decision under my breath, because at one point of the day I just have to abandon all my work to go for an hour-long walk. But honestly this saves me; while the dog runs insanely through the forest, I’m alone with my thoughts. It’s always a blessed time of silence, serenity and reflection. Fortunately my dog doesn’t preach, but somehow God gently forces me to step back and slow down by using this brainless creature.
This Wednesday, another Lent kicks off. Apparently the only Lenten tradition we haven’t get rid of is stuffing ourselves with pancakes the day before. Perhaps it’s not a completely bad idea to use this time of forty days and nights to slow down a bit, to find a moment of reflection each day, to look on our everyday rush from a distance, and to find that sometimes less means more and worse turns out to be better.