Discovering God among distractions

Published February 1, 1999

‘when thine eye is single’

The other evening I decided to stop at a cable TV station that I normally flick past. On the screen were five or six different sections, all showing, or providing text about the five or six different subjects.

I was intrigued because I had recently seen a commercial for a device that would allow me to watch two stations at the same time, and this one station was producing a similar effect.

It all seemed to me very distracting; the chance to absorb such varied snippets of information confused me rather than excited me. But I am told that this is a function of my age and generation, and that people raised in a computer era easily deal with multiple agendas simultaneously.

But I wonder.

There has recently been concern about drivers using cell phones and the potential of their becoming distracted from the principal task, the conduct of a vehicle. One study (on what evidence I did not hear) even suggested that the rate of automobile accidents involving phones was as high as those involving alcohol. The cell phone can distract through two senses, the ear during conversation and the eye during dialing.

I am told, because British fascination with these instruments is greater than ours, in the UK a vehicle must be stationary if the driver is using a telephone. (This does not surprise me; on a recent trip on a British train, the person next to me carried on a phone conversation about her relatives so full of unflattering and salacious detail that I thought it would have been inappropriate across a dining room table, let alone in a train. If the person on the other end were sitting in a car, it would have been best to be stationary!)

Reflections on all this led me to the older translation of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:22) about one’s eye being “single.” The Greek word haplous does literally mean single but because that adjective seems odd with the word eye, more recent translations have used ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’ to make sense of a text declaring, “the eye is the lamp of the body, so if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”

But I wonder if in our culture, characterized by distraction, besieged by information, oppressed by communication, the single eye, focused and not distracted, is an image for which to reach out?

And what would a single eye be on the lookout for? Surely the God of whom our first affirmation is that “the Lord our God is one.”

I lead a life of much distraction; during the writing of this article, I have been interrupted seven times, each time with something important. Interruptions are not in themselves evil; indeed, they are often more substantial than the designated task.

But, I believe, what really contravenes our Lord’s admonition about “singleness of eye” is the deliberate establishment of distraction, interruption, “many-eyed-ness,” as a way of life.

Multiplicity and distraction are givens for many of us. Our calling in the midst of them is to search for, to long for, to love the God who is within each of those distractions, to discern how God holds that multiplicity together.

But surely not to add wilfully to the problem by choosing distraction as a way of life!

Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.



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