Paul declared in I Thessalonians 2:17: ‘…out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you’.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine sent me a link to a video segment excerpted from a Bill and Gloria Gaither concert. In the video, guest Wintley Phipps recalled the history of and then sang ‘Amazing Grace’, one of the most recorded songs of all time among all vocal artists. During his description of the song’s origin, which left both a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, he reminded the audience in the sold out music hall that we, regardless of national origin or race, are ‘all connected’. His reminder, received with loud applause approval from the gathered crowd, stuck with me: we’re all connected’–‘we’re all connected’.
Now, fast forward to two weeks ago. While leaving a local hospital, following a visit to a friend, I walked through the large turnstile and saw a row of people sitting next to each other along a long bench. The sight of the people sitting there reminded me, somewhat, of a perennial Fall sight of large flocks of birds all facing the same direction nestled wing to wing while perched on a telephone or electrical transmission wire. None of the people were talking to each other, facing one another or even actively noticing one another. No doubt they knew someone was seated near them, but all heads/eyes were focused on the screens of their electronic devices and all thumbs and not a few fingers were tapping out messages. I wasn’t trying to be ‘nosey’, but I did notice. To be fair, messages relaying glad tidings, relief or prayer requests could have been being transmitted. However, it could also be that each person was ‘talking’ with someone not present who themselves were sitting near someone else, all of whom were ‘text messaging’ with limited focus on those sitting nearest to them. I acknowledge the help these devices offer us. But I still wonder to myself: We are all connected, but are we any closer.
Connected as these devices keep us, they are still limited in their use if closeness is our goal. For example, at the same hospital, ONLY a person takes an ice water soaked swab and moistens the parched tongue of a friend. ONLY a person prays with a family whose loved one is not responding to treatment. ONLY a person can hold the hand of a friend turning from life and entering the physical presence of our Lord. Devices don’t bring closeness at nursing homes. People do.
Electronic devices have their place. They provide a valuable service to most of us. However, ONLY a person provides the priceless gift of thoughtful, loving presence. Let’s all remember that devices can help us stay connected, but ONLY you can help us stay close.