Peter and I have recently discovered the wonders of Skype. Now we can use our computers to have endless chats without having to pay anything. Webcams enable us to see each other. And, wonder of wonders, we can have three-way conversations with our eldest brother or a friend.
This splendid technology spans the Atlantic Ocean and draws us very close. It has an intimacy and immediacy which a phone call or email lacks. Being apart has now become much easier to handle. This will become increasingly important for us if the frailty of old age makes long distance travel too arduous or even impossible.
Meanwhile, Peter and I find Skype not only enables us to have gossipy chats and swap jokes, but it is also a great asset to our working together. We can have live discussions about our work and bounce ideas off each other. The Webcam enables me to show Peter the rough drafts of cartoons I've painted for our blogs. He's then able to suggest improvements -which I sometimes heed.
But I must confess that while we both enjoy these Skype encounters neither of us always gives the other his undivided attention. Often we will leave the radio or TV on. Then Peter will suddenly ignore what I'm saying and let out a yell of delight at seeing a brilliant goal, golf stroke or piece of cricket on TV. As he explains his unexpected enthusiasm he draws me into sharing his excitement. I must admit that I am just as bad as him. Delight in sharing our common interests draws us closer together, instead of pushing us apart.
This kind of casual behaviour is fine between brothers and close friends, who don't always need to be formal and serious. But it does become a problem when visiting someone who leaves the TV on while you're trying to talk to him or her. It soon becomes clear that you yourself, a valued friend, are actually resented because you have become an intrusion to their following a favourite programme. You are made to feel that at that time it's more important to watch the programme than to see you. You feel they wish you would go away, but are too polite to say so.
To me there seem to be several solutions to this situation. The most obvious would be for your host to switch off the TV, make you welcome and give you his undivided attention. Alternatively, you could be invited to share in the enjoyment of watching the programme together. What's not on is for your host to watch the TV while talking to you about something completely different. If you can't hold his interest you may as well cut your losses and leave.
These rambling thoughts got me thinking about different approaches to prayer. Certainly there are times when we should switch off from our daily interests and try to give God our undivided attention. Putting it mildly, it would be very bad manners if I were to focus half of my attention on watching a football match and the other half on saying the Divine Office. In fact I suspect I would simply be reading the text and not really praying. And I wouldn't really enjoy the game!
But it could be a different matter with my informal personal prayers. I could try sharing my daily interests and concerns with God. That would be like Peter Skyping me and explaining and sharing his excitement at seeing something brilliant on TV. The invitation would have been welcoming, and the enjoyment would have been greater because it was shared. Similarly I can get God involved in what really interests me -not just serious religious matters, but also the light-hearted and crazy moments of my life. Then what would have been a distraction is brought before God in my prayers and would help me to draw closer to Him. That way I would not be pushing Him to the fringe of my daily life.
A final thought. Our Dominican motto is to, "Contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation." Peter and I use Skype to discuss new ways of meeting God. That reflects the contemplative side of our lives. There we spark ideas off each other, criticise and hone them and eventually post them on our blog. For both of us this is an exciting, godly experience in which we try to distill what God is saying to us and what He wants us to say to you through our blog. So, we believe that we meet God throughout the whole process of our joint Skyped contemplation and that He is involved in the shared composition of our blog postings. After all, Jesus did say that where two or three are gathered together in my name I am there in their midst -today, even in Skyping! And the same can be true for you. As you and a friend talk over your faith you can help each other to draw closer to God -perhaps through Facebook or Twitter.
So, for a change, let's rejoice in the wonders of the computer and the exciting new opportunities it provides the preacher, enabling him to reach a world-wide audience. We prefer to rejoice at this modern creativity, rather than constantly decry the very real dangers of the Internet. Like most other things this new technology can be used for good or evil; it can help us to draw close to God or can distance us from Him.
Next week Peter will muse on "No check-mating God"