Did you see last week’s episode of “The Amazing Race?” Are you watching that? I guess we’re all waiting for “The Amazing Race – Canada” to air. It didn’t this time, but I’m sure next time.
Anyway, in last week’s episode, in one of the more creative challenges, contestants were required to dive into the ocean, into the not-too-deep waters just off the beach of the island Bora Bora in the South Pacific.
And with their underwater gear, the teams of two were required to find a chest resting on the ocean floor, open it, and using the contents in the chest, set up a dining table – with folding chairs, small cafe-style table, umbrella, plates, cutlery, wine glasses. Very classy.
The underwater cameras enabled us, the viewers to see the underwater world in which the contestants performed their task.
The multitudinous and colourful variety of fish, just calmly and serenely swimming around – and so many of them!
The slower and more deliberate movements of the contestants – like they were in slow motion.
The clear, azure-coloured waters.
It was stunningly beautiful, serene.
It was as if, in the midst of the frantic rushing of the race, and other stressful challenges they needed to do as part of the whole race, of racing around the world for a $1 million, here, in this particular, unique challenge of diving underwater, contestants finally had a chance to slow down, to be fully engaged in the present moment, be fully aware of their surroundings, and appreciate the beauty emerging and blossoming all around them.
Afterwards, I remember the contestants saying how much they appreciated that particular task; how they thought it was “fun”, and “amazing,” “awesome” and “beautiful.” No doubt.
Like the contestants racing around the world in “The Amazing Race,” we live in a frantic, speed-obsessed, distracted world.
Life often seems like one big, rushed and distracted race to the finish line.
Commentators have pointed out that at no other time in history has the problem of distracted and superficial thinking been more evident as in this day and age. And this to our detriment.
The dominance of the internet these days is part of the problem.
Studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators have pointed to the same conclusion:
That when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes quick, cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.
We’re always skipping on the surface of a whole bunch of thoughts, over-stimulated by trivial information coming at us from so many directions.
We go through our days, our thoughts scattered, our minds distracted, racing through life, living on the surface.
As one author put it, this distracted state of being prevents us from thinking either deeply, or creatively.
We don’t take the time we really need to truly ponder and reflect on something. We don’t take the slower pace we need, to allow our minds and hearts the calm, and the lack of pressure, they need to process through our thoughts and feelings, and naturally to come up with truly creative and hopeful solutions and ways forward.
We don’t allow ourselves the time and slower pace we need, to develop greater intimacy with God, deeper relationships with others, and more attentiveness to the world around us.
Because our society has chosen to put such a premium on instant results, quick fixes, and rapid access to information, it’s so hard for us to nurture the more life-giving habits of paying attention, developing wisdom, nurturing attentiveness to ourselves, others, and to God.
And all of this amounts to us being less than human, less than who and what we were created to be and do. Lacking the capacity for deep and authentic relationships, lacking the strength and creativity to develop and use our unique talents for the good of the world, too hurried and distracted to enter the depths to pray and allow ourselves to slowly be transformed into the likeness of Christ – we aren’t being who’ve been created to be, and doing what we’ve been called to do.
We’re like that shrivelled up fig tree in the Gospel reading today. Dried up, and burned out. Useless. No good for anyone. No good for making any positive impact on the world.
The owner for good reason wants it chopped down. After three years of no fruit, why let it continue to take up and waste valuable space?
But then, notice what happens next: the Good News of the Gospel: The gardener pleads to the owner, not to chop the tree down, but leave it for just one more year, to see what happens, to give it just one more chance for it to grow figs.
The grace and mercy of God never come to an end. As the scriptures say over and over again: God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
However tragic the world around us may be, however dried up, burned out and finished we might feel, God doesn’t give up on us.
But recognizing God’s abundant grace and mercy doesn’t leave us off the hook, as if we can just continue to sit back and do nothing about our depleted and dried up lives.
Recall in the Gospel text that the gardener was ready to do some real work to restore that fig tree. The gardener was planning on digging up the soil around the tree, tilling it and putting manure on it to fertilize and encourage the tree to start bearing some fruit.
The grace and mercy was given, but work still needed to be done.
God is gracious and merciful, but we too need to do our part. We can’t do everything, but we can do something, something to “tend the soil” of our depleted and dried up lives.
For example, doing the work of intentionally coming together as a supportive, caring community. Others can help remind us of this all-pervasive grace of God.
Or, doing the work of tending to our connection with the Holy One through prayer, meditation, and study of the scriptures, tending the lines that anchor us to Christ, so that in time, our lives take on the likeness of Christ Jesus.
To be connected to that calm, still presence of God at the foundation of our lives and world; so that,
our lives can truly bear fruit – fruit of joy, of generosity, of compassion,
as the “waves” of our distracted thoughts and turbulent emotions rush at as, as the storms of the world crash in on and around us,
we know, with resolute assurance, that we remain anchored in God, no matter what.
“My whole being clings to you, O God,” says the Psalmist today (Ps.63:8), “Your right hand holds me fast.”