In 2014, spoken-word artist Gary Turk urged the world to ‘look up’ from their phone, to give people their love not their ‘like’ and proposed that we were creating smart phones and dumb people. The other day I scurried along to meet a friend for coffee at a small shopping center, I was right on time but didn’t realize I had no idea where the café was located. I had raced from one meeting to another all day and was desperate to be on time, but I just couldn’t seem to find it. So I headed outside of the center, reached for my phone and opened Google maps to locate the café. To make matters worse, it indicated that I was miles away from my destination.
Then I heard a familiar “hello” from my friend who was quick to point out that I was actually standing right next to the café we were meeting at! I scolded my phone for misleading me and lamented that it would have been better to look up and take in my surroundings rather than relying on the technology autopilot. What else did I miss as I looked down at that little screen of distraction?
I am convinced God places landmarks in our lives to help guide our travels. These landmarks come in the form of places and people who help orient our direction, support us from heading into danger, and remind us of where we have been. Family, friends and my Catholic community are important landmarks in my life and they help me stay on course as I navigate my way through the valleys and high roads. I can also point to certain passages of Scripture and quotes from saints that have become as familiar as the bus stop and the crooked tree I pass by each day on the way to work. In some way they guide me on an unconscious level and become part of my internal compass.
As the world becomes more digitally connected and reliant on technology, we must remember to soak up the physical world, and in doing so we can become landmarks for others. It’s important to remember the witness we offer to those around us “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:4). We can overlook the ‘notifications’ of those around us, skimming superficially over life and missing the deeper reality. Our family and friends don’t have a little red bubbles above their heads with the number of things they want to alert us to.
We could easily dismiss the role we play in the lives of others if we compare ourselves to famous landmarks such as the saints, pioneers in industry and political leaders. These major landmarks have become the centers of tourism and pilgrimage, drawing large crowds of people. However, most of us are destined to be the crooked tree or bus stop, quietly appearing in the daily lives of those around us. Almost 20 years ago, St. John Paul II urged the youth of the world to “not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.” In saying these words he was simply echoing the teaching of Jesus himself who quoted the book of Leviticus: “Be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). St. John Paul II implored them to “be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.”
We must continue to raise intrepid apostles who believe God’s word is a lamp for their feet, a light on their path (Psalm 119:105): witnesses who are far more reliable than an app on a smartphone.
Who or what are the ‘landmarks’ that help keep you on the path?
Copyright 2019 Nathan Ahearne