Saturday, March 03, 2012

What goes in

To point out the limits of computer technology, there used to be the reminder GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. Computers are limited in what they can accomplish and produce by the software and data that are put into them. If these are weak or poor, so will be the computer’s output.

We are smarter than computers, so we think ourselves capable of filtering the images and impressions we take in over the course of our days, choosing what we wish to retain and accept into our worldview.

Alas, it is not so, as any of us can tell you who watched a movie that scared us when we were younger. What goes in, stays in, with a staying power all its own. What’s more, what goes in, shapes what comes out. You know this if someone has ever asked you about a word or expression you used, and then you thought back and realized that someone you spend time with uses it.

In Lent, we get the chance to modify this process. By spending less time with some or all of the media that ordinarily dominate our days – television, radio, internet – we can identify not only how much violence, greed, lust, and all-around nastiness they pour into our heads, but also how they pollute our own thoughts, words, and deeds. Garbage in, garbage out.

When we put aside these "inputs" and put prayer in their stead, and the Scriptures, or the biography or writings of a saint, or some other study of our faith, we are not necessarily, nor only, uploading new data. Just by putting this before our eyes, we are influencing the thoughts, images, and ideas that stand before our mind's eye. This, in turn, shapes what we say and do, definitely for the better. GIGO comes to mean God in, God out.

Truth and goodness are but two of the essentials that we must include in our diet if it is to nourish us. The third is beauty, equally transcendent, thus equally proper to God and to us. So while weeks ago I encouraged you to clear out much of the audio input from your life for Lent, one benefit of silencing all that noise is that it leaves an open channel for beauty, and attunes us to recognize it. That could be the voice of your child or the song of a bird, both of which reveal something of God's glory for those who have ears to hear.

Toward that end, I would like to draw your attention to next Saturday's concert by Chantry. Not only is this music richer and deeper in composition and performance than the common music that fills our days, but it illuminates texts that specifically meditate on the mysteries of God and our salvation. Psalm 51 is the prayer of a repentant sinner, and can shape and describe our own hearts especially during Lent. Gregorio Allegri’s setting of it in his Miserere for centuries attracted travellers from around the continent to the Sistine Chapel to experience its ethereal and plaintive beauty. It is a gift to be able to hear it live; do come.

Precisely because we are not simply processors and keepers of data the way computers are, truth, goodness, and beauty are to be sought and savored. Study the Truth. Embrace only Goodness. Make the choice and take the time look at, listen to, and enjoy Beauty. When you absorb these aspects of the Divine Being, they will shape your own being and doing. GIGO, for you, will mean when grace goes in, grace flows out.

Monsignor Smith

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