No vile thing

Meditation on Psalm 101:2-3

Yesterday morning, in my daily reading of some portion of the Psalms, I landed on Psalm 101. This is one of David’s psalms, and in this prayer he speaks at length about the ways in which he guards his life from evil influences. Verses 2 and 3 read in part like this:

I will walk in my house
with blameless heart.
I will set before my eyes
no vile thing.

David is wise to guard his eyes, as vision is the most powerful of the senses to most humans. He is determined to live before God in righteousness in every part of his life — not just in public where his people were watching, but everywhere, including the privacy of his most personal space.

I spent a chunk of my morning thinking about this psalm, praying for insight and asking specifically if there was anything I put before my eyes that is unhealthy to me or offensive to God. Afterward I pursued my normal routines, cleaning up in the kitchen, making tea, eating breakfast. I opened up my computer to check my email and get to work.

And proceeded to spend the next several hours wasting time by looking at the internet.

I’m not going to confess some unexpected, lurid and tantalizing secret sin here, because there isn’t any to confess. I didn’t spend all day looking at stuff that was blatantly, unquestionably vile. Mostly I read my primary social outlets: Ravelry, Facebook, a couple of blogs I follow, and email. I was reading and responding to things posted by my friends, and none of them are vile either. Lovely, smart, funny people, all of them. I didn’t search out a single thing that I would even think of naming “vile.” And yet, the sum total of my time and effort for most of my day was to have looked at a lot of trivia and ephemeral things that aren’t making any strong difference in my life, while neglecting several important things that could have made that kind of difference, for me or other people.

Is a picture of a cute kitten vile, or a joke from a friend, or an interesting conversation that happens to be online? No, certainly not. When a deluge of such things takes over an entire day though, when the sum effect of all of those innocent bits and pieces is to steal my time and therefore my life, what do I call that? When I perpetuate this waste upon myself, neglecting things that really are important and would benefit my life and other people’s lives, what do I call that? Is “vile” too strong? Is it strong enough?

I haven’t decided that yet for myself, and I seriously hesitate to apply such a strong word, but it is providing serious food for thought. I can say two things for certain; first, I am absolutely not calling the internet as a whole or any large social site like Facebook or Twitter categorically wrong, or “vile.” All of those things are a mixed bag, with stellar parts and abominable parts and every sort of in-between part. It’s up to the individual to pursue what they find good, and avoid what isn’t.

Second, David was wise to protect himself by guarding his eyes. He was wise in knowing that we humans are easily distractable and tempted away from our best intentions. I am not going to cut online interactions completely out of my life, but I am thinking about how I may need to start protecting myself from indulging in them to excess, in order to pursue more worthy goals and purposes.

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