There I was toodling (spellcheck says it does’t know this word. Too bad.) along on the treadmill at the Y, listening to a little Bach, watching a cooking show on the TV, and breathing in the aroma of the gym. Meditative exercise I call it, engaging each of the senses, just like a solemn high mass. I’m sure Thomas Merton would approve.
Anyway, my cellphone beeped with a voice mail, which prompted that first signal of urgency. Listen to ME, and NOW! It might be IMPORTANT! It was a friend from Spokane wanting to know if I had any idea how many might be coming to a workshop we are presenting on Saturday. That’s when the second signal of urgency went off: STOP RIGHT NOW, CALL HER BACK, SHE NEEDS TO KNOW!
A rising chorus of Bach Amens, and a tantalizing view of celery being chopped in the most amazing way, brought me back to my senses. It could wait. It could wait until I was finished exercising. It could wait until I got home. It could probably wait until tomorrow. In fact, it might not have to be answered at all.
I don’t think I’m alone here. Modern life, partly driven by computers, smart phones and cable news, has become infused with a sense of manufactured urgency that many of us have unreflectively bought into. Today’s (and I mean today’s) spike in oil prices, the fall of the dollar and the sudden rise in the value of the Swiss franc are examples of the artificiality of it all. It has nothing to do with whether the turmoil in Libya or threatened turmoil in Saudi Arabia will have a long term impact on the global economy. It has everything to do with traders betting on manufactured psychological urgency opening the door for them to make some big bucks on the downside of panic for a few days, and on the upside of recovered sanity for weeks after.
A few friends avoid at least some of this by keeping their old unsmart phones, or forgetting to carry them everywhere, or simply ignoring them when they ring. A few others never watch television and listen only to NPR. I was visiting many years ago with a farmer in southern Minnesota. The phone in the barn rang, but he ignored it while we kept on talking about duck hunting, cows, corn and whether his pickup might need a new muffler. I asked him about the phone. “They’ll call back if it’s important,” he said.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. (Mark 6.30-32)
I think the farmer was a little too laid back for my tastes. But he had a point. My cell phone is still in my pocket. My fire department pager still hangs on my belt beeping and whooping its calls. All my other electronic gadgets still surround me with their siren songs. But Jesus’ calls to come away with him to a deserted place and spend some time in quiet. I think I’ll go – right after I feed the dog who is whining with increasing urgency as he paces back and forth between me and his empty food dish. Oops, two e-mails just came in: MUST READ THEM!