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Do We Perceive?

"On an unremarkable morning in January 2007 during the morning rush hour, a young man entered L’Enfant Plaza Station in the Washington, DC subway. There was nothing distinctive about how he looked; a youngish guy in jeans, a long sleeve T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. Taking his place against the wall at the top of an escalator, he pulled a violin from a small case and threw in a few dollars and some loose change as seed money. He played for around 45 minutes to a restless conveyor belt of people - over a thousand in the time he was there. As he played, the preoccupied herd thundered past him; only a small boy lingered for a few minutes before his mother impatiently grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the escalator. The few who do who did give money tended to toss it into his case on the run, more an expression of guilt then appreciation. When he finished, the young man collected his money, packed away his violin, and left the station. No one applauded; no one even noticed. For his labors he had earned a grand total of $32.17.

The supposedly cultured crowd of largely federal government workers were unaware that morning that the young fiddler in the metro was Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians of his generation. He played some of the most complex and elegant music ever written (Bach) on one of the most valuable violins ever made - a Stradivarius worth $3.5 million. Bell’s impromptu performance in the metro was arranged by the Washington Post, as an experiment to see if, in a mundane setting at an inconvenient time, true beauty would transcend it." (as told by Jonathan Grant in "Divine Sex")

Gene Weingarten won his first Pulitzer Prize for his article about the experiment, “Pearls Before Breakfast”.

Weingarten went on a couple of years later to win another Pulitzer with the Washington Post for his haunting story about a new phenomenon of modern society; parents who accidentally kill their children by forgetting them in their vehicles. Before the early 1990’s this was very rare, but in 2009, when his article “Fatal Distraction” was written, it happened in the U.S. about 15-25 times per year.

“What kind of person forgets a baby?

The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.” (Fatal Distraction)

As I read this, I looked over at my 6-week-old first-born son and I thought to myself, I would be unbelievably devastated if I were to do something like that him. And that of course, is understated. But then I also thought, it is not beyond the scope of imagination that I could have the capacity to be so self-absorbed, so distracted, so focused on other things that I thought were paramount at that moment, that I could neglect someone I love … to the point of death. Even if it is not neglect in such a dramatic and devastating way, could I neglect someone I love to the point where I am absent emotionally, too wrapped up in my own world to give the time, love, and nurturing attention that children so desperately need and crave as they develop?

This is not pretty to admit.

So what does this all mean?

I believe one of the things it could mean is that as we become busier and more distracted with the aid of technology, the ability to work past dark and communicate with peoples in all time zones across the world, we can more easily lose ourselves to the things that are not most important, and in doing so, not only miss out on some of the most beautiful things around us, but actually destroy them inadvertently.

So be aware, and beware, of the pitfalls of modern society’s egotistical, capitalistic, and human soul-devouring rat race … it could cause you to miss the beauty God has intended for you to partake in, perhaps even taking you to places you never intended to go.

Try putting down your phone immediately when you come home from work. Try turning off your phone and never turning on the television one weekend to spend time with the people you love [if for no other reason than to exercise the self-control that God has empowered you with through His Spirit (2 Tim 1:7)]

Try stopping to talk to someone at the office for a few minutes that you normally would walk past and give the typical courteous, “hey, how are you doing?” remark as you continue on your way. Try learning something new about that person ... perhaps start with their name.

And if you see something beautiful, even if you just think you do … take a moment to soak it all in.

In fact take two.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phl 4:6-7).

"One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple." (Ps 27:4)


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