For most of us, our lives consist of pressure to be more efficient in the face of a barrage of information sharing.
For parents of school-age children, the forms seem to never stop. For those in middle management, professions, or public service, the thickness of the files make laughable the claim a few years ago that computers were going to create a nearly paperless society. For those furthering education, the information that needs to be absorbed is ever growing.
The volume of information being generated today is immense, beyond our ability to comprehend it. If I were to start reading now and read for 24 hours without stopping, at the end of the day I would be years further behind that when the day began. And that is if I stay within my profession. Most of us understand now that information is power and power is money. Five of the six largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. are information driven.
But information, like money, is not distributed equally. Those that have more want more and often are tempted to keep it to themselves. Of course, it's sometimes possible to buy a book that will reveal secrets of business success, investing, how to get God to bless you, how to be more spiritual, or how to travel on the cheap. And we often fall for it -- I have a shelf full of such books to prove it.
I'm learning information overload can get in the way of life if it's not managed and balanced. Those who are connected to social media, read news, or watch it on TV feel this every day. It makes us vulnerable to believing the worst of people -- especially those with whom we disagree. Things about which we would know nothing and which we can do nothing about keep us up at night. I am not advocating head-in-the-sand ignorance -- there is plenty of that to go around as well. What is needed is balance and beauty in our lives.
Information at every turn can be imagination and soul-crushing. Forms flatten people into categories and clients. Algorithms reduce us to predictable customers. Many blogs are written to make us feel guilty or ignorant, or both. Constantly taking in "objective" information may help us be closer to experts, but do little to enrich relationships.
In the world of religion, creed and dogma may play a role, but if that is all there is and defending it is our purpose in life, we may be in danger of missing God altogether. And there is certainly little beauty or peace to be found in a religion that is packed with information but devoid of freedom. We know this because we see it every day and some of us have lived through it -- with differing results. Some find a way through it and others reject the bad practice of faith as being representative of the whole and give it up altogether.
It is worth noting here that the Bible is more poetry than anything else. In those sections where there is less of it, there are still breaks at important junctures where God's people break out in song because "just the facts, please" will not do. There is a beauty and openness in poetic expression that cannot be found in any other place. When we reach the limits of human experience, be it joy, sorrow, fear, hopelessness, or victory beyond imagination we turn to poetry -- most often now in the form of a song. It is not the facts of our existence that anchor our memories, it is poetry (music).
No wonder then, when the story of the universe begins in Genesis, it begins with a poem -- "At the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth." When God wanted to convey wisdom (not law) he turned to poetry -- notably Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. At the depths of the sorrow for sins committed, King David turned to poetry: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:10-12, RSV).
When we seek comfort in difficult times our souls cry out for basic care from our God and Psalm 23 drips from our hearts through our lips. When God had difficult messages to deliver to his people through the prophets, it was usually delivered in poetry. I believe because poetry can express more vividly the depth of the passion that God feels for us and his disgust at our selfish, unfeeling pursuits that harm our fellow human beings. He calls us to repentance and tells us of salvation in poetry. He opens life up to us.
Tuesday is World Poetry Day. Get in touch with the poet God. It will bring life into balance and help us understand our place in the world.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville, Kentucky. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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