‘Drilling down’ is something of a conversational catchphrase. I am not sure that conversations are particularly enriched by it, perhaps because drilling is too easily associated with dentists and oil wells. But the phrase does have something to offer when it comes to news overload, although it is the depth, not the aggressive drilling which, seen from a different perspective, may have something to bring to the way we initially react to the conflicts and environmental catastrophes with which we are faced on a daily, if not hourly, basis. We brace ourselves for the news as if it were the dentist’s drill. I think there is a better way to play a part in healing the world’s pain than simply bracing ourselves for the next disaster.
As Christians, we engage with the suffering of others by ‘deepening’ rather than ‘drilling down’ into it. Deepening is not the same as ‘drilling down’. Deepening involves ‘dropping into’ and allowing, rather than forcing ones way into something. There is no pressure involved, and hence no stress. We deepen, or drop into, the world’s suffering, and begin to participate in its healing, by first allowing the initial shock wave of the latest news feed to flow into us and through us, without trying to block or defer it by turning off the computer or phone.
Today, I alight briefly on CNN’s cable news channel to be faced with a report of the latest Israeli raid on the town of Jenin, the worst in over a year. I am tempted to just click on to the next news item, or switch off. It is a typical news overload moment. But neither of these evasive tactics is really an option. Instead, I need to ‘deepen’ into the situation being depicted, and the devastation it has wrought on all those involved, by dropping down into its own darkness.
This is not quite the same as ‘drilling down’. Dropping down is not a search for some pre-defined end, or even for a solution to the problem. It is a matter of letting go of one’s own initial resistance to the suffering of others by ‘abseiling’ down into their suffering and into all the circumstances which surround it.
Abseiling, as defined by Wikipedia, is ‘the controlled descent of a vertical drop’. The abseiler has to both let go and hold on, letting themselves drop down into the unknown while bracing themselves against the cliff face and holding onto the rope. We abseil into the Jenin situation by picturing the human beings caught up in this decades long conflict with no end in sight and by bracing ourselves on the inner strength given to us in the abiding presence of Christ.
When it comes to engaging fruitfully with the world’s pain, we let go and drop down into it in terms of our own inner life. Our inner life, if we pay attention to it, is a constant, so you could say that its constancy means that it is the only life that we can call real. It takes us out of ourselves but it also holds us together. Our other more superficial habits of mind generally return us to an over familiar but far from complete, or real, self.
Following our immediate inclinations or habits of mind, including switching off when we reach news overload, seldom enables us to be more deeply connected to others. It leaves little time for abseiling into the realities that lie behind any news item. In an age defined by the instant and the superficial, depth is what counts, and depth requires trust. Abseilers take a calculated risk as they drop down into the depths while trusting completely in the competence of those around and above them.
For Christians, life in its fullest sense involves this kind of trust. To trust others means knowing ourselves to be connected to them, wherever they are, and taking them with us as we drop down ever more deeply into the life of Christ – the Christ who ‘abides’ with us and in whatever situation we are being faced with in the news, the Christ who provides the foot-hold or ledge on which to brace ourselves when needed as we absail into the depths of our inner life.
This is how Christians think of prayer. Prayer is a three-way process. We take the world’s suffering, and the suffering of those known to us personally, into our inner life. We bring all this suffering into the presence of Christ who abides in us and in Jenin at the moment and we dare to hope.