Rector's Ramblings June 27, 2018
I can’t count the number of movies, older movies, in which the need to find a phone was a significant plot point. How many scenes have been shot over the years, in which a character is in a phone booth, for example? We have become so normalized to the idea that people carry cell phones and are always available, that the days of pay phones and land lines seem like ancient history, or at least like it should have been in the era before color film was used in Hollywood. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but I do find it funny when I note the dramatic shift in communication.
I was part of a discussion the other day in which we were debating how long it should take a spouse to respond to a call or a text message on a phone. It was a light-hearted conversation in which some were being teased for their lack of response, which is indicative of the fact that they aren’t always near their phone. Nonetheless, there is an expectation that we get back right away, and we get increasingly frustrated when that connection is delayed for any reason.
I am not so young that I don’t remember the days before answering machines and caller ID, both of which could tell you who called while you were away and record a message in your absence. Sort of like having to watch TV shows live, you had to be in the moment for the communication to work. After a time, we got used to leaving messages and voicemails, or paging someone, so that they would call us back when they returned or when it was convenient. Now, with the ubiquitous presence of phones, we’re back to expecting nearly-live communications.
This isn’t practical, mind you. We can’t always have our phones on and ready. But some people try hard to do just that, and still others assume that we do. Add to that the plethora of ways we communicate with each other via smartphones, from our texts to our voicemails, from FaceTime to Facebook Messenger, Snap Chat to Twitter, many of us simply can’t keep up with all the ways people try to communicate with us. Now a plot point that requires a lack of communication has to hinge on a battery without a charge, or the increasingly rare zone with no cell service.
All that communication is good, in some ways, but it’s also not great in others. Our status as “always available” and always connected affects the brain. Many experience anxiety when separated from their phone. Ironically, however, once we get over the initial anxiety of separation from our devices, it becomes calming and freeing. I’m aware that only some of us are addicted to our communication tools, and only some expect immediate response to those communications, and yet I also know it’s more widespread than we care to admit.
I see a connection to our faith in this, too. So many of our communications with God seem to be one-sided, as though every prayer goes to voicemail, every text received, but unanswered. It’s as though we scan our FB pages for the times God hits the “like” button or hits us with an emoji, only to be left waiting time after time. On the other hand, we expect that God is always listening (God is always listening). We’re like the person on the HAM radio, calling out into the static, connecting with an unknown listener who might respond. How many of the plot points in our life fall into this category? How different would things be if God would just answer the phone once in a while?
The truth of the matter is that God is listening, and the Holy Spirit is always active in the world around us. We don’t always get the responses, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t sent. There are also those times when the reply isn’t noticed because of the delay, or because it’s not what we were expecting. We send an email and miss the text message, or in some cases we watch the mailbox and ignore the singing telegram! I also know that when we feel disconnected, it can create anxiety; a lot of our spiritual yearning and our efforts to explore spiritual practices are essentially to address that anxiety. It is through those practices that we learn to encounter God, to seek God and to listen for God’s call; it is through such practices that we come to hear God. Such connections are not instantaneous, and not accidental. They happen with intention and attention.
When we realize that there can be constant connection without active communication between Creator and creation, it should bolster our faith. Learning to recognize God’s presence, even if it is not “tangible”, like a vibration or a chime when a message hits our phone, can lead us to a sense of peace. It can also give us freedom to go and do what we need to, always knowing that God has got our back. And with that, I have to dive back in to my inbox and my voicemail. I have had several vibrations, dings, and alerts in the time it took to write this. If one of them was from you, I’ll be right with you.
God, thank you for teaching me that I can survive without Wi-Fi. I pray that we can all learn to shut down every once in awhile, too. Amen. (Paraphrased from a Millennial blogger, after having to go without internet for a time.)