Analog is dead. Digital is the future.
Or so we were told, David Sax explains in The Revenge of Analog (2016). I put my Canon Rebel DSR (film) camera on consignment at the local Camera Center shop in town. We sold the darkroom equipment on Craigslist. Chemicals were too expensive, so I never got started. Then Camera Center closed. I forgot to pick up my camera. Digital, it is.
Digging through boxes to KonMari my way to peace and happiness, I happened across artistic photos I developed from my glory days as a college student in Minnesota. To look at a photograph and not a screen was a remarkable feeling.
I want to listen to live music. I want to read a real book. I want to hold my newspaper when I read it. There is something about seeing the real thing in real life. It feels different. It is exciting. But can analog still exist in our digital world?
Body and Soul
On Corpus Christi, as the altar server hesitantly waved the thurible around, the air filled with the pungent smoke of prayers lifted to Heaven. Four men carried a gilt platform with a mounted monstrance of golden rays at least 2-feet in diameter. It was surrounded by flowers. And while the jarring, bouncy rendition of “One Bread, One Body” failed to capture the spirit, the Spirit was there in this Eucharistic procession, a feast for the senses. My hand flinched with the urge to grab the arm of the women next to me and whisper, “how close to we are to our babies [in Heaven] right now!”
These are the “smells and bells” sometimes complained about in the Catholic Church. They matter now more than ever. They are analog.
Sax explains why the experience is so different. As analog beings, we understand and engage with the world through our five senses. The more senses engaged, the deeper our engagement, the stronger our reaction. For a gross example, to smell and see and hear someone vomit is so much worse than just finding it on the bathroom floor.
St. Thomas Aquinas puts it more eloquently when he describes man as a hylomorphic being, composed of a united body and soul.
When we enter the church or chapel, where etiquette still promotes the prohibition of cell phone usage despite the existence of apps to help us pray, we are challenged to be fully present here, while the incense invades our lungs.
In his book, The Mindful Catholic, Dr. Gregory Bottaro puts his finger on why this prohibition matters, “Every time you use this device or watch TV, you practice anti-mindfulness. Imagine how many hours you have spent practicing anti-mindfulness exercises, in which your mind is not aware of what is actually present in the moment. In this time and space, it is a phone, or TV, or whatever, but your mind is focused on the news, or social media, or shopping, or whatever it is that you are looking at.”
Digital takes us away from the here and now. Because digital has made a whole host of things easier, we often assume it is better. Thus it floods our lives and world. Not thinking about it, carries us along for the ride and before we know it, anxiety is up, distraction is up, relationship quality is down, depression is up.
Practicing mindfulness has the power to combat it. Do not let the term throw you. At its core, mindfulness is awareness of the present moment. When you enter a church, sit and read the day’s Gospel in the indulgent leather bound, oversized Daily Missal and enjoy the turning of those ribbons for all it has to offer. Notice how good it feels to hold the paper, the way your eyes travel on the page, how it feels to look at the lettering with all its imperfections. Smell the air, hear the silence or the whispers of aged prayer or the chattering at the other ends as people connect at the close of a long week.
There is your mindfulness exercise for the day. The world moves so fast, we have to choose to slow down. With all the information, all the stimulation, we have to choose our focus. Can you do this the next time you visit a church?
Analog isn’t dead. Breathtaking church architecture, full throttle organ music, and commissioned artwork are not dead. Let’s welcome the experience of the senses as the way God gave us to meet him, in the flesh.