We live in a small world at high speed. And this way of living tends to produce spiritual barrenness rather than richness.
In recent centuries, our collective knowledge of the cosmos along with everything else has increased astronomically. Now we know that in size comparison, our solar system is to the universe what an atom is to our solar system. One result of this knowledge is that we have a tendency to view everything through what I’ll call a telescopic perspective: We live, as they say at Walt Disney, in “a small, small world.”
Not only that, but technological advancement now allows us to live and move in our small world at high velocity and high volume. We can travel great distances at great speed in cars and planes, seeing many brief glimpses of our tiny world. And when we aren’t traveling, we are squeezing into our short days as much activity, browsing as much information, and interacting briefly with as many social relationships as we can.
The Big Picture
That’s why G.K. Chesterton, ahead of his time as usual, was sounding this warning more than a century ago and telling us to get our microscopes back out:
The truth is that exploration and enlargement make the world smaller. The telegraph and the steamboat make the world smaller. The telescope makes the world smaller; it is only the microscope that makes it larger. Before long the world will be cloven with a war between the telescopists and the microscopists. The first study large things and live in a small world; the second study small things and live in a large world. (Heretics, chapter 3)
Chesterton wasn’t bemoaning technological advancement and cosmological discovery. He was bemoaning our tendency to believe that always viewing life through the telescope and zipping around frenetically trying to learn, see, and experience a little about a lot of things makes for a more sophisticated, richer life. It doesn’t.
The big picture of the world or a country or a culture or a garden or person is by definition superficial. Flying itself helps us see very little of the world. Book summaries don’t tell us the whole story. Facebook alone won’t help us nurture deep, intimate friendships. They increase speed and volume. But they tend to make the world smaller.
Rather, we must augment our big picture perspectives and high speed, high volume approaches with patient, slow-paced, careful, prolonged observation, examination, and reflection as well as time-intensive discussion. These are things that reveal glories that we’ll never see merely through our telescopes alone. They can function as microscopes, helping us see far more wonders right around us in things we thought we knew, things we’re used to, things we have become bored with. These microscopes help enlarge our world.
Continue reading below…