Fr. Glenn: Disconnecting From The Data Stream

By Fr. Glenn Jones:

You know … you think I would have learned by now.

When I lived on the east coast, I just knew I’d have plenty of time to visit all the sights—Revolutionary War, Civil War, the Blue Ridge, Cape  Cod, etc., … until I didn’t, and had to leave them all in the rear-view mirror. And then while in Los Alamos, I thought I’d have lots of time to visit all the wonderful panoramic vistas and trails … until called away unexpectedly. Oh, that accursed procrastination gene!

That came to mind this this weekend while driving between Las Vegas (NM) and Tucumcari, and the thought came to mind: “Just gotta’ get out and do this more often” as the open road, and even more open vistas, beckoned so seductively. Ahhh … peace and quiet.

When we think about it, in our daily lives we have way too much “data input”—work, school, family, friends, other obligations. Simply imagine the near data overload in just driving on the major highways and interstates—especially in cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque, where every driver’s actions are an unknown and potentially hazardous, if not deadly. Compound this every day and the need to “decompresss” becomes quite real.

And so … driving across New Mexico on highway 104 from Las Vegas to Tucumcari was such a decompression moment—that overlooked treasure of scenic beauty. Rolling grasslands going east from Las Vegas soon transforms into much more dramatic topology … hills becoming mesas, low ridges surrendering to towering escarpments … boulder sentinels standing watch at the base of their cliff battlements. Looking far out into the landscape finds cattle and horse archipelagoes moving imperceptibly across the verdure … scattered juniper forests, with some indefatigable individuals extending their rooty tendrils into a slow but relentless shattering of what would otherwise seem to be indestructible stone.

Then comes a 9% grade into a sweeping valley … a stop to admire the beauty and peace of the vista ahead … absolute quiet reigning except for the sounds of the wind. Miles and miles of nothing but nature, with the only signs of civilization widely scattered ranch houses nestled in sheltered canyons … many abandoned … some bare foundation stones standing mute witness to lives long gone. Mile markers tick off in metronomic regularity … fields of yellow, white, red and purple wildflowers approaching and then falling behind … the spinning windmills in the distance providing life in a dry landscape. Turkey vultures criss-crossing lazily high above … diving now and again to inspect more closely a possibility. One almost expects to see covered wagons in the distance traversing the frontier.  Ah, tranquility. Ah … peace.

Alas … that peaceful revelry is broken—a village appears in the distance. Sigh … back to “civilization”.

What is it about such vistas that are so beautiful to us … so very calming? After all, before all of our technology and conveniences, such landscapes would be challenging … harsh and uninviting in many respects. But the peace that comes is the peace of rest—the resting of the mind in something as comparatively mind-less as lazily driving an almost abandoned open road. Perhaps it is the bliss of anonymity … the unburdening—albeit all too temporarily—of pressing obligations in our lives.

Very often we feel as if we must remain continuously “busy” else we are being negligent in some way.  Mothers especially, it seems, in their love and ardor for their children’s welfare, often feel the need be doing ever more. Etched in memory is my grandmother’s very rare exception of actually sitting and relaxing during a holiday meal, rather always popping up to get one more thing—the salt, fill the gravy, the this or that.

But, of course, sometimes less IS more, especially if it helps us to serve more ardently and avoid “burnout”. Apparently even Jesus knew this, as He would call His apostles and disciples to “come away and rest awhile”… knowing that without that necessary resting of the mind and body from duties and obligations, the person risks the inevitable frustrations of weariness.

And so … as we approach the end of the school year for the young ones, or even just when you have a few hours on a weekend, take that time to “come away and rest awhile”—whether it be on your vacations … or simply driving a lonely road in New Mexico. It can do you a world of good. It certainly has for me.

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.