Yesterday I heard the news that a plane had crashed into a building in Austin, Texas. I have a friend in Austin and instantly wanted to know if she and her family were alright, and what news she'd heard from ground zero. She and I met about 2 years ago through a mutual friend on Facebook, and since then we have logged hours of instant messages, but have only spoken on the phone twice. But due to my Lenten fast, I was forced to call her on the phone. What followed was a 45 minute conversation in which we not only discussed the crash, but branched off into psychology, theology, plans for a family trip together, and sharing about our frustrations and joys with our small children. We shared in less than an hour what would have taken probably 6 months to cover over Facebook, between instant messages and wall posts.
Why have we mostly forsaken actual talking, on the phone or in person, in favor of text messaging and internet blips? How is it that we can think of email and wall post interactions as a cultural advance, when through them we cannot hear voice inflection or see facial expressions? Why do we choose a mode of communication that slows us down and limits what we can say?
If I'm honest with myself, I prefer the text or the IM because I can engage in it on my own time. If I'm feeling overwhelmed by all I have to do in a day, it's easier to fire off a quick text to someone than it is to speak with them, exchange the polite greetings, inquire after their family and health, and sign off respectfully. Have you noticed that many emails dispense with the "Dear So-and-so" and "Best Regards, So-and-so"?
On the third day of my Facebook fast I am thinking about prayer, and wondering if our technological advances have not only affected the way we communicate with each other, but also the way we communicate with God. I was at a family retreat recently where we learned about a deck of cards resource for parents: prayers for the "family on the go." It was the prayer equivalent of text messaging to God: short-order phrases of gratitude or petition to say while driving to the store, waiting in the drive-thru line, or watching a soccer game. With this type of prayer a person could pray all day long without interrupting his or her schedule. The parents of young children who were present at the retreat, including myself, lined up to get our own deck.
All kinds of prayer are valid, and there is certainly a place for these types of prayers. But if all we do is text-message God, sending canned messages smashed in between events in our harried lives, then I think we miss something important.
Like a phone conversation or a face to face meeting, prayer with God could instead be a real conversation. When we meet people and actually talk with them, we get to share our stories in detail. When we spend time with others our relationships become stronger based on shared experience. Couldn't the same be said for our relationship with God? We might stop every now and then, and instead of sending the text message, go to meet God in the world. Invite God into our home or our workplace, and strike up a real conversation. There is a risk here, because it means we need to make ourselves available for a call at all the inconvenient hours of our busy lives. But our lives could be richer for it.