Growing up Catholic, I was taught that taking on a Lenten discipline is meant to be a challenge; if you’re going to abstain from something for six weeks, it should be something that is difficult for you to give up. As a kid I gave up chocolate, now as an adult my fast requires a little more planning. For Lent this year, I decided to give up social media, which is something I’ve thought about many times but this year felt right.
Social media is undeniably a major part of my life. I use it to stay in touch with friends and family living far away, to expose myself to new ideas and thinkers, and to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world. But I noticed recently that it was affecting my life in a way that I didn’t like. With Twitter and Facebook, everyone with an internet connection can get news from across the world in real time, and as a consequence I felt consumed by rage and sadness, all the time. I was constantly encountering something new to be furious about. I spent so much of my mental and emotional energy reacting to fucked up things people said or did. As a queer person of color who experiences microaggressions (and just plain old aggressions) all the time, I felt as though I never had space or time to heal from my trauma before reading or hearing about something fucked up happening somewhere in this country. Lent this year, I decided, would be about taking a break to go within myself and heal.
It’s been difficult to say the least, but necessary.
I’ve been contemplating a practice that I was introduced to a few months ago. I’m part of a community called Mystic Soul, which centers the spiritual and contemplative traditions and experiences of people of color. We have a rule of life (a set of values for living), and one of them is “subversion not reaction”. I struggle with this SO MUCH because my instinct is almost always to react. I don’t think reaction is wrong; anger is a valid, healthy emotion and there is immense value and merit to calling out powers and principalities and bidding them to repentance. At the same time, anger can be draining, and it can keep us stuck in places of pain and anguish if we’re not careful. As someone who believes in a diversity of tactics, I’m trying to embrace subversion. Jesus employed both of these methods in his encounters with his critics— sometimes he called them broods of vipers and hypocrites to their faces, and sometimes he countered their critiques by simply drawing in the sand and ministering to people who were at the fringes of society. My sense is that he discerned in each moment what was most appropriate.
It’s Holy Week, and Lent is almost over. We’re entering into this hallowed time when Jesus was led into Jerusalem to meet with his destiny of violent death and glorious resurrection. Jesus, even in his last moments, did not shy away from challenging the powers of the day, whether through words, flipping tables, or silent presence. At the end of this season, I’m committing to embodying that space of discernment in my interactions with social media in a way that is healthy and life-giving.
Words by Ricky Cintron.