Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; give me life in your ways.
(Psalm 119:37)

On many, many occasions in my millennial life, more than I care to recall or admit, I have lifted my head, refocused my eyes, and come to my frazzled senses after mindlessly staring at my iPhone or computer, those glowing rectangles of distraction and dispersion in front of which I spend an alarming percentage of my time. In those moments I think, “What did I just waste my time on?”

It’s often then that I find myself with the prayer we just heard in the Psalm on my heart and in my mind: “Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; give me life in your ways.” In other translations, it reads “turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity,” and “avert my eyes from seeing falsehood.”

Vanity, falsehood, worthless. These words pretty well describe the substance of much of the digital content so effectively designed to capture my monetized attention. The fascinating thing is that this verse appears in Psalm 119, a prayer of one whose heart delights in the law of God. By including this petition for God to keep his eyes from what is worthless, the writer shows that the inclinations of the heart are inextricably bound up with the things our eyes behold.

He writes, and prays, as one whose heart longs for the things of God, and yet who is still divided. He is perhaps one who waivers, strays, forgets. He writes, “Make me go in the path of your commandments, for that is my desire” but then follows with “incline my heart to your decrees.” Here we have a clear statement, on one hand, of the desire to go in the path of God’s commandments, but on the other, a prayer for the heart to be inclined towards that which it apparently already, though imperfectly, desires. This is a clear window into the struggle, the conflict, the contradiction in the soul turned toward God. What honest insight into the reality of the wayward human heart, even, and perhaps especially, of the praying heart.

Having acknowledged the reality of the divided heart, the writer then follows with this plea for God to keep his eyes from what is worthless, because what we look upon shapes what we desire, what we will, what we are moving towards: life or death, heaven or hell, wholeness or fragmentation.

The Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, in his teachings on the Buddhist eightfold path, includes “right consumption” as one of the dimensions of human life that require intention and discipline. Consumption naturally brings to mind food and drink, things we put in our body, but Thich Nhat Hanh expands it to include entertainment and media – TV, movies, iPhone apps, music – for, just as there are toxins we can ingest through alcohol, drugs, and corn syrup, so there are also many forms of digital distraction that are toxic for the body and mind.

And so I must be more discerning in what I behold and in what I consume with all of my senses. How will I know the difference between that which gives life and that which zaps it?

Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18) As we gather around the altar, may we look upon the good fruit of Mary’s womb who was lifted up for us on the tree of life, that we may ever more deeply behold what we are and become what we receive.

Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; Give me life in your ways.

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