Published June 10, 2016
In a world that is increasingly giving way to secularization, many religious rites and symbols no longer have the self-evident power that once moved entire civilizations to raise them to the status of divine origin. As old religious ways of leading the human person to the divine gradually weaken their hold on the human hunger for God, people look around for something or someone that glows with the promise that there is a way through life, a way to a place that is not damaged by imperfection. New movements emerge on the horizon, promising all kinds of benefits if you join up, subscribe, contribute.
I was with some friends in Singapore, and we met for lunch at a place near a river. It was a good time. We enjoyed a good meal and conversation and watched boats sail up and down the river.
During the meal John periodically checked his iPhone, for which he had purchased some kind of navigation device. It provided so many things—it amazed me. With the press of a few buttons, the little screen lit up and you could see just where you were (and if you were moving, just where you were going). It had the time, the date, the weather, traffic conditions, and precautionary notes. John has been and is a source of directional knowledge for a lot of people.
We finished our lunch and sauntered outside and meandered a bit in front of the restaurant. The last time I saw John his face was buried in his iPhone and he was walking. And he kept walking. And soon we lost him. The area was very crowded, packed with tourists and Singaporeans, but we could not see John. We agreed to split up to look for him. I headed back to the dock—we had taken a small boat across the river to the restaurant—and when I got there I saw John, still walking very slowly, his head bowed, scanning his iPhone. I called out to him, and he looked up and smiled. And then he looked about and said, “Where is everybody?” I told him that everybody was looking for him.
Well, our little group got back together, and there were no more problems with John and his wanderings. But I have thought back on that day. Technology—say, iPhones—is as good as it helps you find your way. But when you do not even know that you are seemingly finding your way while at the same time losing your way—that can be problematic.
John’s wandering is a minor and harmless example. But there are more frightening and tragic examples of people who, when seduced by the allures of power, technology and control, move through life assured that they have found the “the way” even though that “way” brings hardship, loss and deprivation to millions.
I find it interesting that John did not know he was lost—and we went out of our way to find him.
Might it be said that those among us who think they know the way through life are opening the way for God to come and show us all a way of life that is right and good?
In some ways, we need more than our navigational devices and GPSs, as marvelous as these may be. But they are not good enough. They do not let us know when we have gone off track and cannot lead us to what we have lost. I think only God can do that.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.