Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Cell Phones

As any of you will know, I am an amatuer bicyclist, in the simple sense of the word. We don't have fancy bikes, but I love to ride them (my best friend is a triathlete and one-time downtown bike messenger--that is, before he got married).

The past two summers, I have become accustomed to a new annoyance, to take the place of in-line roller bladers, whose numbers seemed to have decreased on the Chicago bike paths. The new phenomenon is the bicyclist who must of a sudden swerve from the path to answer his cell phone.

Now I only have 45-60 minutes every other day for biking, and I'm not interested in being interrupted by a phone call. As far as I know, there are no calls so important that I can't hear about them when I get home.

I have come across many op-ed articles of late dealing with cell phones, mainly because the hand-held variety are no longer legal for use while driving in Chicago (Blessed be God!). They note that we are very fearful of being alone and we lack community structures that make us feel secure when we are at a remove from those we love.

I would second this and go one step further. One of the big steps in growing up is learning that our parents can't be there for us all the time. We realize that when they go away, they come back, but in the meantime, we must simply learn to go abouit lilfe without them and put up with the babysitter or perhaps with just being bored. We learn to trust that things will sort themselves out if we just wait long enough.

Cellphones short-circuit this path to faith. Faith is putting our confidence in things that we can't see, that aren't present to our bodily eyes. This is a test of our loyalty and of our fortitude and patience. If we get antsy and call everybody in our personal phone book every time life is a bit agitating, we will never really grow in these virtues. If we need our friends to affirm us regularly, well, I wonder what sort of friendships these are in the long run. They sounds more like mutual addictions to me.

I mentioned my good friend above. We have, over many years, gone for periods of months where we don't have a chance to visit. This is normal--we both have lives to lead after all! The wonder of it is that whenever we do have the chance to visit, we have so much to share, so much to hear about each other, so much to take pride in that we have been doing in the meantime. I cherish these visits.

Eventually, our friendship with God needs this robustness. Prayer can't be God affirming me every day. Some days, yes, we need that. But at some point, we need to start trusting a little more in God's plans for us and assenting to dryness in prayer. As Thomas Merton wrote, "The monk is one who desires to be in the desert." This is to say that monks want some dryness in prayer because it toughens us and strengthens our faith and hope.

Here the analogy with cellphones breaks down, and at the same time demonstrates more clearly my distaste for cellphones. On the one hand, we must pray every day (every moment!) and this might seem to be like using our cellphone to God constantly. On the other hand, we fully expect with cell phones to find people right away. I would imagine if one person doesn't answer, we call someone else. This would be the equivalent of trying the rosary one day, centering prayer the next, the Jesus Prayer the next day until we found something that made us feel good. Am I listening for God in this? Or am I serving my own needs?

Well, that's more than you might think I had to say about cellphones.
"Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life!" says our Lord.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I once went out with a girl whose father used to dissuade her from too much use of the (wired) phone by saying, "The telephone is for communication only!"

Ah, yes! But what KIND of communication are we speaking of?

He obviously meant "serious" communication, not the frivolous stuff that teenagers engage in.

I don't own a cell phone, nor do I particularly desire to. But since public phones are rapidly becoming museum pieces, I might have to get one anyway.

Then I'll eventually become one of those frivolous wireless users!

But seriously, cell phones are just another manifestation of the need for us to be "connected", IMHO. You guys have a better way, and I recommend that people "connect" with the Lord at the monastery!


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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