I have a mediocre sense of direction. I can usually retrace my steps, follow signs, and notice the position of the sun in the sky to acquire my bearings. Despite ancient gender stereotypes, I can and have stopped and asked for directions without shame. I am fully capable of doing all these things, yet, in the past few years I’ve relied solely on a phone (a tiny computer with far more abilities than my parents’ old desktop from the 80s is a better description) and a satellite. If I am meeting a friend for coffee or lunch or a drink, I don’t have to memorize maps or ask strangers for help anymore. I tap an icon on a screen, type in an address or venue, and continue my confident walk toward my destination. I use this app every time a friend wants to meet some place new and catch up. If you’ve kept up with all the new venues popping up in which one might meet a friend, there is a constantly changing landscape of coffee shops and bars and restaurants in every town and hamlet in MA. I suppose I could navigate the winding streets of Boston to meet with a friend without the use of a my phone, but I would probably be late… every time… wasting time that could be spent connecting.
Finding my way isn’t the only thing my phone can do. My pocket sized device also comes with a to do list to remind me of the tasks I need to accomplish before and after allotting time to reconnect with an old friend. My tiny little computer has a calendar that sends me reminders to be here at this time and there at that time and it tends to yell at me in strange electronic noises if I forget. My Facebook app lets me know every time someone shares an important political article or every time someone shares a photo of their dinner so I can adequately provide an opinion based on a thumbs up, heart, laughing face, surprised face, crying face, or angry face. My weather app lets me know the slightest change in barometric pressure. My podcast app informs me of every new episode of every podcast in which I have an interest (including ones that are labeled “podcasts you MIGHT be interested in”). My phone is my most useful organizational tool… and it’s also a set of prison bars preventing me from experiencing the live action, real world around me.
As I’m sitting across a small square table from my aforementioned friend, I hear him talk about his new job, the health of his parents, the birth of his daughter, his partner, their travels, their joys, their concerns, but my focus and intent to reconnect is interrupted by dings, beeps, blips, chimes, tweets, pokes, and, even if my phone is on silent, the persistent thoughts that remind me of the to do list, the appointments, the bills, the unread emails, the unanswered voicemails, and all the little minions that spoil your chance to stand still and take in life: the present moment and people around you.
Lent might be the season in the Church calendar that is the closest to some forms of Eastern ways of thinking. Buddhist teachings warn us of the consequences of attaching ourselves to the things that cause suffering, to things that are impermanent. Daoism teaches us that life is flowing, ever changing, always striving toward a balance. If our eyes and ears and focus are all glued to the technological ramblings of a product designed to convince us that we need this toy in order to succeed in our occupational and social lives, perhaps it’s time we learned about the off button in order to gain a sense of balance. Lent is a season of introspection, wandering, stepping back to gain a broader view, and, most importantly, ensuring our path leads us where we want to be. During Lent, we give up the things we believe we use in excess, and we take on the things that promote holiness, a separation from the mundane and the hurtful and the life draining, in order to reconnect with God. Our journey ends, and really begins, on Easter Sunday when we realize and acknowledge that we are not what our vices and devices dictate us to be. I don’t know if Jesus would tweet his Sermon on the Mount or tag certain people in his parables. I don’t know if he would Instagram all the fish and bread that fed a crowd of thousands. What I do know is that Jesus stopped for the sick, for the confused, for the outcast, and for the curious. He stopped everything he was doing, and he stopped often, for anyone on the fringes, anyone in need, anyone seeking guidance on their own wandering paths. As someone working in Christian Education, what can I teach during Lent? Put your phone down. Allow yourself to wander a little. You might discover a way to connect with another wandering soul.