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Electronic Devices and the “Sacrament of the Present Moment”

First of all, I want to say how great it is to be back from what turned out to be a refreshing and restorative 8-day silent Ignatian retreat at the Jesuit retreat center (Campion Renewal Center near Boston), which started last Monday and ended this Tuesday.

Eight days can seem like a long time to be in silence, with “nothing to do” except pray, sleep, hike, eat, read, and journal, but believe it or not -- after a day of two of adjustment -- the time flies.

Most of the adjustment the first few days away on a retreat such as this comes from de-toxing: de-toxing from constant communication, constant stimulation, constant conversation.

For today, a word about constant communication:

I really like my smart phone (just as many of you love your BlackBerry or iPhone)…I love the ability to text, Instant Message, surf the web, call, get and receive emails and phone calls all from my phone, no matter where I am. Very convenient.

But listen, folks: Smartphones/BlackBerrys/iPhones are good servants, but awful masters.

One thing that getting away from electronic devices for a while will teach me is that, for me -- for many of us, I suspect -- they’ve crossed the line and have become things we allow ourselves to become tethered to.

Tied to.

Bound by.

In other words, enslaved to.

Now -- here’s a bit of classic Ignatian Spirituality -- I want to make it clear that phones, like all technology (like every thing on the face of the earth), are value-neutral…they aren’t “good” or “bad” in themselves…it’s the use we make of them.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with phones, just as there is nothing wrong with power. Or sex. Or a million dollars. Or alcohol. Or fame. Or religion.

No, all these things are, or can be, gifts -- gifts from our Loving Creator, to be used by us to draw us into closer relationship with God and with one another.

But there IS something wrong with the way we develop “inordinate attachment” to things. Any of those things.

Take Smartphones/BlackBerrys/iPhones for example: they’re great for staying in touch, but when we allow them to trump real-life conversations (for example, checking texts or taking a call while in the presence of a real live human being, unless for a genuine emergency); we are not only misusing the device, we’re being rude, disrespectful, to the person we’re with.

(I’ve caught myself doing this more times than I care to admit. If I’ve done it to you, I hereby apologize and pledge amendment of life!)

More importantly, spiritually speaking, when we constantly check our devices, we divide our attention.

And divided attention disrespects the “sacrament of the present moment.”

And living in the “sacrament of the present moment” -- doing what you are doing…being present in the present -- is, I think, one of the chief challenges (and source of great joy) in modern times.

I wish I could remember this lesson without having to go away and de-tox.

But now that I have, I’m glad for it, and if some of these observations strike a chord with you, I hope they’re helpful.


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