Now. Here. This.
Fr. Boyle: Whenever the desert fathers and mothers would get absolutely despondent and didn't know how they were going to put one foot in front of the next, they had this mantra and the mantra wasn't God and the word wasn't Jesus, but the word was today. That's sort of the key. There's a play off-Broadway right now called Now. Here. This. It's Now, period, Here, H-E-R-E, period, This. And that's kind of my — that's become my mantra. Lately, I'm big on mantras. So when I'm walking or before a kid comes into my office, I always say "Now. Here. This, Now. Here. This." So that I'll be present and right here to the person in front of me.
I wake up to NPR every morning. Lying in bed, my brain is often coaxed awake by thoughts inspired by the morning news, commentary on the congressional budget process, or reviews of new books and films. Sunday mornings, though, I wake to On Being with Krista Tippett. This engaging show tackles "big questions at the center of human life, from the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of the human spirit."
Recently, I heard the comments from Fr. Boyle above and have returned to them again and again: "Now. Here. This, Now. Here. This."
Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the use of cell phones in church and encouraging parishioners to use social media during services. I must admit, I tend to agree more with a recent article entitled "Being Quiet in a Clamoring World." I find it more and more difficult to find peace and quiet in our modern society. I have not been to a movie theater in years where someone did not check their cell phone or text messages during the movie, despite numerous on-screen pleas to the contrary before the film's start. If you have been to a concert or any type of public performance lately, you probably had to fight your eyes not to pay attention to the brightly lit screens in front of you as others (or you) photographed and filmed the event. I wonder how many people now watch the majority of live events through their screens instead of with their own eyes.
I am not some Luddite yelling at the kids to get off my lawn. As those who know me will attest, I love technology. I freely admit to being a gadget geek. I spend far more time than I should using some combination of a smartphone, computer(s), tablet, Kindle and Playstation 3. However, I must admit I really enjoy the break from technology that I receive during worship. Could I impose my own break at home? Of course, and I do. However, the thought of being surrounded during worship by those encouraged to access Facebook and Twitter during services makes my stomach churn.
In many ways, the devices that allow us to access social media are not unlike secondhand smoke. If you are in a place where others are smoking, it is hard not to notice or be affected by it. Likewise, a brightly lit screen in your proximity demands your attention and changes your focus. Even if you consciously ignore it, the effort you expend to ignore it prevents you from paying attention to other things. Encourage people to turn their phones on and you will be besieged by phones ringing and chiming with notifications and messages that would otherwise have been silenced.
"Now. Here. This, Now. Here. This."
We often talk in health ministry about the ministry of presence and its importance to all who experience it. I think the sentiment to reach out beyond the church walls is admirable and we should explore new and innovative ways to do so. That said, I do hope we leave the tweeting during services to the birds outside our windows.
Matthew Ellis is CEO of National Episcopal Health Ministries