May I Have Your Attention, Please?

The late poet Mary Oliver in an essay titled Upstream wrote, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” She’s right. It begins, not on Sunday mornings, but before we get out of bed each day. Faith is a fight for our attention span. It’s no easy win because life is lived in broadband.

Our focus is on highspeed connection. Our litany is, quick, fast, and in a hurry. We walk around with our phones in the air trying to get a stronger signal. Buffering. Hand raised, is this a sign, and what does it say about us? The bars now represent our pulse because what are we without our phones?

Life filtered and neatly cropped is the only way we can see ourselves. Known by our pages, our profiles and handles, we cease to exist if we aren’t online. We’re as good as dead and dead to the world. Convinced that we cannot visit relatives and have physical reunions, we live with them online. Blood-related, technology is an unnecessary medium for meeting them. Still, we cannot see that it actually gets in the way.

The world is in our hands. All that we need is in our hands. Order food or a car. Apply for college, a job, or a home loan. We can’t put the phone down. Distracted driving, distracted walking, distracted eating, distracted talking. On the internet, we “live, move, and have our being.”

We are attached, but loosely. We pay to play, to have our say in the world. With channels, pages, accounts, and followers of our own. We are taking the lead now.

My head is spinning, and I need to sit down. I’m scratching my head, wondering what it all amounts to with all that is being said. Online but out of line with one’s own life, we’re willing to talk to strangers, to reveal it all to the world, but talking to God is odd and a challenge.

Life is summed up in 280 characters, but we cannot find the words to pray. We pick up our phones every morning and they are the last things we touch at night, but we are not convinced that we can practice this discipline. We touch technology more than our children, our spouses, the grass and the leaves. Earbuds in, we miss the hum of the bees, the chirp of the birds. Creation is singing God’s praises and we can’t hear the words. We talk to our phones more than we talk to ourselves.

Thinking we are going to miss something, we’re afraid to put our phones down.

With bright lights and neon signs, all attempt to be noticed. We don’t even give ourselves commercial breaks. Life is to be captured, photographed, and consumed. “Look at me! All eyes on me!” Digital screens become mirrors.

“Don’t touch me! You don’t have to really like me. Just click the like button.” No need to see each other eye to eye, just look at the screen. It’s like we are hypnotized.

Snap out of it. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work,” Oliver taught us. Heads down, eyes closed, join hands and pray with me. God is calling a meeting. God is speaking but will not shout over us. If anyone is listening, God is saying, “May I have your attention, please?”

Reverend Starlette Thomas* is the interim pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at www.racelessgospel.com. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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