While we all continue to shelter at home, do you find yourself watching more television? I know I do. Some days I’m pretty sure reruns of Parks & Recreation and Inspector Morse are the only thing keeping me going!
In the midst of the stresses and anxieties of our present moment, it’s essential that we have activities that bring us some escape or relief. As a Jesuit priest and screenwriter, I’ve come to think watching television can also be a kind of spiritual experience. The shows we binge- watch, the characters and events we identify with – or even those we come to hate – are like breadcrumbs, hinting at our deeper desires and the invitations of God.
If that sounds interesting to you, here’s a little exercise you might try:
- Tonight, right before you start watching television, take a moment just to let the events and feelings of the day fall away. Let your breathing help quiet yourself down. Ask God to be with you.
- Then, enjoy your show, just like always.
- When the episode is over, turn the TV off for a moment and take a minute to dwell upon your reactions. Which character or storyline were you focused on? Whom did you love? Whom did you hate?
- Sit with that character or storyline for a moment further. Do they resonate at all with your own life or relationships? Let yourself daydream about that for a minute.
- If anything does stand out, maybe write down a word or phrase that captures what you noticed.
- Then, the next time you watch another episode (of that show or another), do this exercise again. See if over the course of several episodes any patterns start to emerge – types of characters you seem to be drawn to; desires or choices of characters that somehow speak to you; events that bring out strong emotions in you.
For instance, let’s say every time you watch a show that involves a child in need you get very invested, even a little choked up. That might seem like just a natural reaction, but maybe there’s more there–a desire on your part to somehow help kids or an indication of concern for one of your children. Or maybe there’s some part of you that is that kid, longing for some support.
In the Jesuits, we believe very strongly that the spirit of God is moving in all things, nourishing us and inviting us to a deeper understanding of what we want and who we are meant to be. So if you are watching a lot of television right now, maybe take a minute every now and then to check back in with yourself and see what your shows are doing in you. Maybe in addition to being entertained, God is offering you the chance for your own little spiritual retreat.
Jim McDermott, S.J., recently collaborated with the Center on Religion and Culture on Binge-Watching with St. Ignatius, a video series exploring Jim’s approach to television-viewing as a spiritual exercise.