By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published October 19, 2017
The letter was affixed to my psalter a few days ago when I went to my place in the choir stalls. It was handwritten on a sheet of loose-leaf paper, and I did not recognize the handwriting. I had a few minutes before vespers began, so I unfolded the letter and read it. To my surprise, I immediately remembered the sender, a woman I met here at the monastery almost 20 years ago. I cannot remember the drift of our conversation, but she obviously did since she recounted snippets of it in the letter.
She wrote to ask me to pray for her son. She is quite sure that he is attracted to the priesthood but, as she wrote, he is struggling with a “spiritual addiction to electronics” and has brief and sporadic times when he is able to pray. She asked me to remember him in my prayers that he may ease off whatever electronic devices he is using and tune into the God frequency.
I will surely remember him—and his mom—in my prayers but will also write to her and mention that her letter gave me pause. I will try to assuage her worries and fears by letting her know that things with her son may not be as bad or as destructive as she may think.
I am presuming that by “electronics” she is referring to the many faceted allure of mass media—the world of information that constantly streams to us via the internet, cell phones, iPads and tablets, multi-station cable TV, and so on.
When I came to the monastery in July of 1994, there were a few computers. Very few.
I guess these days they would be likened to the status of dinosaurs or museum pieces. I do not recall there being any cell phones. Digital cameras had yet to arrive. Several years passed. The survival of our “industries” demanded that we get on board with the rest of the business world and computerize. Gradually, the use of computers evolved from business use to personal use. These days, some of us have our own computers. Those monks who, for whatever reason, choose not to have one for personal use are able to get online using one of several computers that are available for community use.
The use of cell phones also made a somewhat humble and low-key arrival to the monastery but these have, over time, multiplied. More than a few of us have phones for business, travel and “on-site” communication. And we are no strangers to the world of digital photography.
So much has changed in a brief period of time.
And it has meant a remarkable change from the not too long ago “old days” when silence was the daily discipline of the life and communication with the outside world was kept to a strict minimum.
The changes in the life have not taken place without problems. Some of the monks are uncomfortable with the encroachments of mass media via the internet. Some refrain from cell phone use. And I suspect that a few monks do not know the difference between film and digital—but they are seemingly happy to have their picture taken.
All in all, I think we have done well with this rush of the “new,” although our order is still trying to come to terms with finding a balance between being “of the world” and “apart from the world.” It is a tension we are seeking to understand, learn from and live with.
I believe God manages to express and offer his life to us through all things. There is no part of existence that lacks his presence and his care for us. I think that includes computers, cell phones and Nikons.
Technology is here, and God will guide us in its usage.
So, I hope my friend is patient with her son. Hopefully he is attuned to God in his prayer and discovering as well the ways of God that grace the avenues of cyberspace.
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.