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What's a Theology of Interruption?
All year long I tried to figure this out - but never got enough time to think
Every day, every hour, every minute of 2020 felt interrupted.
By the children in my home, always here and constantly needing and no one else to help us care for them. By the world's suffering, worsening at every turn, sinking my soul each time I scrolled through the horrible headlines. By a thousand emails, a hundred Zoom calls, endless messages, each one pressing—because everything feels urgent when the world is on fire.
My mind unspooled with every interruption, forcing me to rewind and find my place again.
How can I understand the derailment of my plans in light of God's love? Or my tight grip on time within God’s eternity?
What’s a theology of interruption?
Are we constantly interrupting the Almighty, beating down the door with our cries and prayers? But what else would an all-loving and ever-present God be about, if not the blessed business of welcoming every intrusion we bring?
Or is nothing an interruption to God? Has every step been seen already by the One who holds all times together?
Does God interrupt us, calling to us through the cries of the least among us, inside our homes and beyond our borders? Could this be the still-living presence of the Christ who was constantly interrupted—by people crying out for healing, for answers, for attention, for love?
His was a ministry of presence. A priority for the poor. An Incarnation of interruption: the divine in-breaking that changed everything—but wasn’t what any human would have planned.
Henri Nouwen said he came to believe that the interruptions were his vocation. I want to believe that, and I also want to protest that.
But guess what? He didn't come up with that wisdom alone. He learned it from another, while they were walking—and perhaps he had been headed somewhere else when they started talking.
“While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know, my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Read the whole reflection here.
Might this be precisely the point: that interruptions remind me the world is not about me?
(Which is ultimately, always, a gift from God in disguise.)
If I expect interruption, I soften. I set down my plans and take up the good news. I loosen my grip and let another teach me: my child, a stranger, or the face of Christ in a thousand stories of suffering, insisting I not look away.
If I welcome interruption, I let my agenda go and re-member myself back into the Body of Christ—always called to care for each other.
If I trust the manna, I release my miserly grip on time and attention, trusting that God will replenish energy enough for whatever labors are most important.
If I follow in the footsteps of Jesus whose clothes were tugged and whose words were interrupted and whose roof was ripped off by those who needed him, might I learn to make peace in the callings from chaos, too?
Now we are cycling into a new year, turning pages and corners. Interruptions will follow right behind. But perhaps we could greet them differently after a year of divided attention.
Can we pray for and build more places of peace, rest, and deep work for each of us?
Could we try to change the way we see each other: not as distractions but as invitations?
As the year turns, may we turn again to the way of conversion. Wind the spool of our time back up again, and offer it to God. Remember that our very presence on this planet was always a gift in the first place.
Interruptions are waiting around every corner – to surprise us, yes, but also to teach us. To humble us back into the way of openness which says: here you are, beloved child of God. How can I meet Christ in you, too?
Here are a few powerful pieces that interrupted my days:
Shannon Evans’ piece on how white Catholics will never change if they don’t encounter their marginalized neighbors.
Leah Libresco Sargeant’s beautiful essay on the Trappists of New Melleray Abbey and their ministry of casket-making.
Vanesa Zuleta Goldberg’s witness of struggling with eating disorders in the light of faith.
A startling story from Frederick Buechner about attending Christmas Mass at the Vatican.
Looking back & looking forward
I wrote a letter to myself on Dec. 31, 2019, for Grotto Network. How could we have prepared ourselves for the months to come? (Spoiler: we couldn’t have.)
Liv Harrison and I had a hilarious conversation about creativity and everything unexpected about 2020. She is enthusiasm personified and her podcast exudes the same energy: Talk To Me.
I’ve got 2 new prayers on the Ritual app: a prayer for letting go of the old year and a prayer for embracing the new one. If you’re a worn-out human, this is for you.