A church lady, at an oxymoronous event called "the coffee social," chided me for not being up to date.
"Are you on Facebook, Father?"
"No, I'm not," and she looked stern, because she was ready to offer me a prize that had something, but not exactly, to do with Friendship.
"But Father What's-His-Name is on Facebook sitting on a motorcycle in his cassock and everything."
She expected me to go on with a long rationale, not getting the punchline that rationales are not needed for not having to determine the correct canonical posture for straddling an 883 in ecclesial dress.
"You could be on Farm Town, you know, I was just at So-and-So's [a mutual friend] Farm the other day and we chatted for hours."
The word "Farm" woke me up, the faux agrarian that I am. The word "chat" provoked a post-beer dull headache. And the real meaning of the word "at" made me wince, and resolve to be charitable.
"I guess I'm not up to date on these things," I stipulated – and that was me saying this, the first in his class who did the concatenation command in old DOS … the fellowship grad in his department who assured the psych Chair that "we'll never need more than 40 megs on a hard drive."
I sounded, I'm sure, like my dad's old mimeograph to her, if she knew what a mimeograph was. I mentioned this, hoping to insinuate a nuance of history into the conversation. She said she had dim memories of getting purple-printed pages in elementary school that smelt funny. I wanted to tell her "No, that's ditto, not mimeo," but I resisted – for once – the chance at doggerel.
"You probably don't even Tweet." Her disdain was peeking out from under her suburban charm.
No. I shook my head like Charlie Brown in the discouraged pumpkin patch. She probably thought my sadness was due to a wan self-discovery of obsolescence and artifacture. My melancholy was real, but it was for her and her generation.
All this chatting and texting and cyber-talking leads to over-familiarity, which the Spiritual Fathers sternly warn us against. Because, if you must know, over-familiarity always ends in disappointment, if not outright betrayal.
She's found Orthodoxy on websites (probably not this one) where one can virtually (not virtuously – that is a different thing altogether) "go to Church." She's "done" Orthodoxy on podcasts and social networking sites, on desktop and Ebook and PDA and iPhone (did I get the gnomic capitalization convention right?).
So much activity. Her and her household's schedules are frightening in frenetic scope and Saran Wrap depth. I wondered whether the home was held together with such plastic that clings.
I couldn't manage it. I could not read or think with all the chatting and practices and associations and shows and games. I could not think in paragraphs, or a sentence, with all the talking about what other people are doing while they themselves are wondering what I'm doing while I'm pecking and swiping with thumbs on a touch-sensitive screen.
What are you doing? Typing? What are you saying while you chat? What are you thinking, while touching the wares at Chico's and Brookstone's? What do you mean, behind the screen?
Nothing, of course, is the answer – but nothing while the background music is at full.
She and her Facebook Friends, usually frenetic, are bored. Full of information, but unable to hoist belief against the anxious and despondent tide of the 4 am abyss. I suspect that she prays as behavior, and cannot very often get herself away from being aware of herself trying to pray. Not praying in knowledge, when you are quite unaware that you are in the act of praying, and aware only that you are praying to Whom.
This is what I wish, on this blog that is more like a mimeograph.
Here is my Christmas wish from Chesterton, in a piece from the Illustrated London News on October 20, 1924:
The whole object of real art, of real romance – and, above all, of real religion – is to prevent people from losing the humility and gratitude which are thankful for daylight and daily bread; to prevent them from regarding daily life as dull or domestic life as narrow; to teach them to fell in the sunlight the song of Apollo and in the bread the epic of the plough. What is now needed most is intensive imagination. I mean the power to turn our imaginations inwards, on the things we already have, and to make those things live. It is not merely seeking new experiences, which rapidly become old experiences. It is really learning how to experience our experiences. It is learning how to enjoy our enjoyments.