As she and her friends sat there, catching up between sessions, she looked out the window and saw a lone priest standing under a tree. Even at a Roman Catholic women’s conference, it wasn’t unusual to see a priest (or two, or three…). This priest had his back to the group, but he had his head bowed in the posture of prayer.
“What an inspiration”, she said, “that priest is taking time out of the day to pray.” Despite a rash of abuses throughout the Roman Catholic church, parishioners, by and large, respect their priests and look to them as models of faith.
However, as the group sat there, watching the priest, inspiration got up and left them. For when the priest turned to walk away it was clear that his posture was not one of prayer. He was texting on his cell phone.
When your head is bowed, what is the reason? Do you bow your head more in prayer or in texting, checking Facebook statuses, tweeting or checking e-mail? What does this true story say, if anything, about faith in action?
We need not disparage the priest for texting, that’s not the point. As a parish priest, he likely was dealing with issues that required his attention. There is nothing wrong with cell phones, and technology, in their proper place. I could not get along without my phone or my computer (and more and more, my iPad).
And yet, given the presence and posture of the priest, the appearance of the cell phone was shocking. All of the assumptions made, based upon contextual cues, were somehow rendered meaningless by the presence of that phone.
The presence of a cell phone is powerful. It changes things.
How do you feel when you are talking face-to-face with a friend and they suddenly take out their cell phone? It’s disruptive, isn’t in? It interrupts the power of presence by transforming the space into something else. Through the use of cell phones people who are physically present can actually be focused elsewhere. It is also the case that people who want to be present, can have their focus drawn elsewhere through that all too familiar sound.
Is the problem cell phones or technology? I don’t think so (he writes on his computer). The problem is a lack of reflection. People often adopt technologies and invite them into their everyday lives without ever thinking about how and why they are doing it. Very few people think about the proper use of such technology or how the technology can actually disrupt and hinder healthy relationships of all kinds. Still fewer people place boundaries around the use of technology.
In the case of the priest, it’s possible that the phone interrupted a time of much needed prayer and rest amidst a busy day. It’s also possible that he used the phone as a diversion from other important things he needed to attend to, but perhaps wanted to avoid. Perhaps he was saying hello to his mother or a sibling or making plans with a friend. We don’t know why he was texting or what it might mean. What it alerts us to, however, is the potential for technology to assist us in life-giving ways or distract us in life-stealing ways. I think that requires us all to think more deeply about our relationships with and response to that all too familiar sound.