Shortly before election day, I learned a new word: doom scrolling.
The term emerged at the beginning of the pandemic. Confined to our homes for weeks, then months, our usual rhythms and routines severely disrupted by the coronavirus, many of us turned our faces toward our electronic devices and kept them there as we gobbled up post after concerning post.
After George Floyd’s extrajudicial murder unleashed protests and counterprotests across the country, Americans’ doom scrolling accelerated. Then election season heated up, and many of us built little biceps on our index fingers. I jest but you get my point.
Doom scrolling makes sense. With the internet at our disposal, with more news outlets than we know what to do with, frantic online surfing and scrolling have given us ways to manage our anxiety and distress; these habits have given us a sense of control over what has so frequently felt out of control.
Except these actions don’t really help—because they can’t.
Social media, like all media, provides an endless stream of concerning content. In troubling times, doom scrolling is simply no match for the barrage of news, statistics, and editorials available to us, information and opinion that, as we compulsively consume it, only leave us feeling more helpless, anxious, or angry, not less so.
With its endless plot twists and upsetting turns, 2020 hasn’t given us clear vision so much as its left us rubbing our eyes, blinking and near-blinded by what we’ve had to see.
If we were looking for peace this year, doom scrolling didn’t deliver. If we were looking for hope, overdosing on nightly news didn’t supply it. If we were looking to feel the blessing of kinship with people far and near, there was little online to meet that need.
You know this old story. Late one night a police officer finds a man frantically searching for something under a streetlight. “I’ve lost my keys,” the fellow says, “can you help me find them?”
The two look and look and look, and finally the officer asks if the fellow is sure this is the spot where he lost his keys. “No, but the light is better here.”
What truth this little fable tells. Whether it’s doom scrolling
or standing in front of an open refrigerator when what we’re really hungry for isn’t food,
or pouring another glass of wine when we’ve already had plenty,
whether it’s running up our purchases on Amazon or binge watching Netflix,
it’s incredibly tempting to look in the easiest places for the peace we’ve misplaced, the hope, the healing, the reassurance, the grounding. All of these actions are understandable and yet none of them are terribly fruitful.
You and I have no way of knowing exactly what was going on in the psalmist’s life when he or she looked in the only direction that made any real sense. All we know is that he or she did: “To you I lift my eyes….To you I lift my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens.”
We can almost hear this person sighing in relief. We can almost see the psalmist’s spine straighten and their face relax, arms lifting in honest praise.
“I lift my eyes to you,” the psalmist says having found what was most needed. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God because he has mercy on us.”
I love the shift from the singular to the plural here. Because when one of us is helped, everyone benefits. When one of us sees, others can too.
I also appreciate the psalm’s subtle reminder that help comes, mercy comes, God comes when we have the courage to admit that we are not in charge, that we rely on a force, a source beyond ourselves.
A force, a source that has our best interests in mind. And who waits patiently for our eyes to meet at last, an exchange of gazes that blesses both the seer and the seen.
Many of you sought and found that loving gaze in the 40 days leading up to the election. You set down your iPads and your remote controls, you set aside time to quiet your hearts and minds. You lit prayer candles and entered into quiet contemplation.
After you were done with your daily practice, you tucked your glass stones in your pockets or set them somewhere where they could be seen, points of reconnection with the Holy One throughout the day.
Beginning in late September, day by challenging day, you made it a priority to look beyond the headlines and poll numbers; day by challenging day, you sought to look heavenward for what no news cycle could possibly provide.
As much as I love the familiar old hymn, as much as it comforts and helps, remembering that “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me,” I’m aware that you and I need more, deserve more, than the assurance that God’s got God’s eye on us.
It’s the returned gaze that we really need. A point of connection. An affirmation of mutuality, of abiding relationship.
When we seek and find the God of the watchful eye, it’s then that beautiful, powerful, life-altering things happen. Happen not merely to us but through us. Our singular pursuits have corporate benefits, the psalmist aims to remind us.
This eye-to-eye seeking is the secret in plain sight at Community Spirit, I believe. And it’s part of what makes us distinctively different from many United Church of Christ congregations.
What moves us forward with confidence and courage is more than the knowledge that God is watching us, God’s little sparrow here on the Western Slope. Turning our faces in God’s direction often and earnestly, we seek and find the kind regard that blesses and then directs us.
Seeking God, seeing God, is what restores our vision. It’s what corrects the blur and the blindness caused by times such as these.
It’s also what helps us broaden our sight, helping us see beyond ourselves and the journey we have taken up together. Seeking God, seeing God does something more, as well: it compels us to look upon our community and world as God in love does.
What God sees when God looks out upon God’s creation is in part what the psalmist strains to describe in her closing verses.
With a heavy heart and a weary soul, the psalmist confesses a painful truth about the treatment she and her people have received. “We have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”
While you and I have had tastes of contempt and scorn these past few years as we’ve taken positions and held opinions that have unsettled our families or troubled our neighbors, these experiences are small compared to what our black and brown siblings have had to endure. Small, too, compared to what our LGBTQ family have suffered. For people of color and those who love differently, there’s been a level of vulnerability and risk these past few years that have been terrifying and even, sometimes, deadly.
Let’s call the scorn of those who are at ease and the contempt of the proud what it is: evidence of ignorance and privilege, both of which have gone unchecked and unredeemed far too often.
Lifting our eyes to God, seeking out the one who ever sees and loves us is our balm in troubled, trying times. What we most need will not come from the headlines or the President-elect’s latest speech. It won’t come from doom scrolling, nor will it come from pretending the world doesn’t feel like it’s on fire.
What we most need when life’s waters are choppiest is summed up in the Sunday prayer we prayed before the election: letting God look upon us with love.
But lifting our eyes God-ward, seeing the love that meets us, this is not without its risks, especially in a time such as this. Because not only will we see God seeing us, we will also get glimpses of who and what, besides us, God is seeing and loving—the scorned, the harshly judged, the looked-down upon.
To look upon the face that is perpetually looking upon is to leave ourselves open to catch sight of all those who also have God’s merciful regard: all those other sparrows, whose very real vulnerabilities put them at the mercy of the contemptuous and proud.
We need only to look to Jesus to see how this works. His eyes squarely, unfailingly fixed on God, Jesus couldn’t help but see—and be moved by—the suffering of those whose lives were hard simply because others willed and tolerated this.
Which is why, in lifting his eyes toward God, in seeing what God saw, Jesus was inspired to lift up his life for others. He did this for all those who, like the psalmist, have found themselves exhausted and admitting, “Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, and the contempt of the proud.”
Something happens when we lift our eyes toward God. We begin to see as God sees. We see ourselves, of course, and our belovedness, our blessedness.
But we also see with increasing clarity how others, through scorn and contempt, are cheated of their inherent blessedness. We see too how utterly misguided the contemptuous and scornful are.
Seeing this, we lift our eyes yet again to God to ask: what would you have us do and be, O God? This morning, this week, this year, this lifetime, how might we be a force for good, a source of hope, a conduit for justice? What would you have us do and be here and now?
Let us pray:
We lift our eyes toward you, O God. Restore our sight, that we might see that you are always and only love. Realign our vision, that we might see ourselves as you see us, as worthy and beautiful and yours.
Enable us, O Face of Love, to see those who so often go unseen, especially those who are made to suffer contempt and scorn because of the color of their skin, their sexual identities, their divergent backgrounds or beliefs or standing in life.
Use as you will to lift up those who have been pushed down, pushed around. Use us as you can and in courageous, consistent ways, to bring about your shalom, your realm on earth. Help us do this as we follow in the way of Jesus, the one who saw you—and us—perfectly. Amen.