Twenty-one-year-old Mathew Crane says he is increasingly called to ‘unplug’ from technology as he seeks to allow space for simply resting in the presence of God.
In a world that is dictated by Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare, one cannot help but be ‘plugged-in’ all of the time. I have taken to leaving my iPhone at home when I go out to do small errands, reminiscing about a time when you would get your telephone messages when you arrived home. This sounds a little odd, coming from someone in his early twenties, but I remember when we first got an answering machine at home. It was plugged into our bright yellow corded dial-phone, once ‘standard issue’, and now considered vintage. Great excitement was found in recording and re-recording the message, each person getting to say their own name. On returning home, my brothers and I would race to get to the phone first to play any messages. Neither of my parents had mobile telephones until the early 2000s; now they are part of every day function.
Within this advent of technology and communication is a frustration for somebody who might loosely identify with the contemplative tradition, or for someone who is seeking to pursue a life of careful, heartfelt listening, as St Benedict describes in the prologue to his Rule. Throughout our many and varied worship expressions, liturgies, music and prayer – and our society at large – there is a loud and clear message: to have the right technology is to be ‘fashionable’. For a young person seeking silence, meditation, refuge from impending ‘busy-ness’, a desire to ‘un-plug’ is completely counter-cultural. My life, like many other people my age, is full of expensive technology: an expensive desire to remain ‘up-to-date’ with current technological trends.
As I seek the sounds of silence, or indeed worship that is more than words; when I delve into the sacredness of contemplation, lectio divina, and the richness of the Daily Office, it is in these traditions of the Church that I find sanctuary and peace. It is from spending time in silence and isolation that I am able to find clarity, particularly without the constant pressure of modern communication.
The Rule of Benedict confronts readers with a call from God, encouraging them to be attentive to the ways that God might be speaking into their hearts. Throughout the Rule, Benedict is concerned with listening, which informs the need for obedience, constantly reiterated by Benedict. Benedict is quite clear: the rule of obedience requires listening from the monks, and a willingness to respond to God’s call. A monk’s primary occupation is ‘liturgical prayer, complemented by sacred reading and manual work’, exemplifying the characteristics of being an attentive and obedient listener. Aquinata Böckmann puts it simply: ‘There is concern about listening to the voice of the Lord, about doing or walking on the way, about obedience and acknowledging that the good things come from the Lord’.
In the silence of simply resting in the presence of God, I find that I am able to feel the goodness of God’s generosity to me.
In an ever-ageing and ever-changing church, to be young, traditional and contemplative is, in many ways, to disconnect myself from peers. I think that we are often afraid of silence, dismissing it as a ‘bad thing’. It feels like we can no longer merely sit in the presence of the Divine, rather we must be seen to be doing, seen to be busy. However, I take comfort in the teaching from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth and fifth centuries: “go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything”.
The late Abbot of the monastic community of New Norcia, Western Australia, Placid Spearritt, in conversation with historian Professor Peter Read said: “Prayer should be the process of relaxing, just letting yourself be, in the presence of God – or, if you prefer, in the presence of reality: just being what you are, and letting everything else be what it is… If you don’t believe in a personal God, then… reality of being, will do just as well for the experience of mystical prayer.” I find that I am at my clearest, spiritually, when I let myself simply be before God, without pretence or concern, just letting myself be, and everything else be. It is a liberating feeling, allowing me to understand the fullness of God’s love for his people. It is this clarity of mind, and peace of soul, that enable me to see the world from a completely new light – a light which is constantly radiating the love of God for all humankind.
Mathew Crane is Theology Scholar-in-Residence at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, and a member of the North West Regional Council.