For about 20 years I didn’t have a television. One day this quirk came out when I was chatting with some work colleagues. One of them blurted out, “I’d die if I didn’t have a TV!” She was shocked – and so was I. Her exclamation indicates how endemic television is in our culture.
Television, and other screen-based entertainment, fills you with the stories of fictional scenarios and characters. Their lives take on at least as much psychic reality as the real people in your life. You are Jason Bourne or Bridget Jones or (my personal favourite) Leroy Jethro Gibbs. You live vicariously.
This Lent I have given up watching TV. (It is what Gibbs would do!) To be honest, I have hardly noticed. I have unplugged the TV and thought little more about it. I have one exception: I will sit with my children when they are watching a film. All rules have limits.
It has been instructive. As I quit one addiction, I cast about for a replacement. I turn on the radio, surf the Internet, read fiction, sort out my music on i-‘You’ve never been so easily entertained’-Tunes.
At the heart of human being is emptiness. The Buddhists call it ‘no self‘ – David Loy calls it lack. The Christians call it ‘poverty of spirit‘ and ‘the loss of all things‘. It is the emptiness of being from another. You are a creature – by, in, from, of, and for God: God is what you are. This is your meaning.
For some reason, you don’t like this. You like to think that you make your own life, that you invent yourself, that freedom is choice. This is at best a half-truth, at worst the propaganda of a socio-political-economic ideology that exists for its own ends and is careless of you.
Quitting an addiction is akin to receiving the gift of a palimpsest. The old stories that you tell about your life are scraped or washed off. It is forgiveness. It is remembering your original face. It is receiving a clean sheet of infinite potential – for creativity, or for waste.
What will you do with this gift?
Who will you allow to write your life?