Like many adolescents, I went through a phase of being on the phone a lot. Half the time we weren’t even talking. A friend and I just held our ends of the phone to our ears and occasionally said something as we did homework, doodled, or stared at the ceiling.
It seems silly now, but we wanted to connect. It’s human nature. Who could blame us?
Aside from those phone marathons, when I was home on the weekends or evenings I was simply there. I didn’t know what each of my friends was doing, and it didn’t occur to me to care. I was present with my family (whether I wanted to be or not), doing one thing at a time.
Social media and its ubiquity have robbed us of such singular focus. I am not immune to its charms. As I draft this (the old fashioned way, pen to paper in a spiral notebook), I am tempted to swipe my iPad into alertness, to see if anyone is looking for me, thinking of me, needing me. My phone is in another room, but were it to buzz a text in my presence I would stop writing and check to see who was reaching out.
My cellphone doesn’t come with me into church. If it did, I hope I would have the self-control to turn it off or ignore it. But it stays outside to remind me that I’m entering a unique and sacred space, a world in which only one thing happens at a time.
When I go to mass, only one thing is happening – or perhaps, a multiplicity of things happen that amount to one thing – Jesus’ sacrifice is recreated among us, “making the work of our redemption a present actuality”. God is loving us beyond measure and appearing in our midst.
For the brief period when this is the only thing happening, before I rush back to my phone to see what I missed, I am accosted by an uncomfortable hunch. It very well may be that there is always just one thing happening. It stretches across existence and matters more than any email ping or Facebook post.
If I could see beyond the clutter and scramble of life I would recognize it for more than an hour a week, in more places than a formal sanctuary: God is loving us beyond measure and appearing in our midst.