Editor’s Note: Our guest contributor today, Jessica M. Smith, explores our dependence on technology in relation to our reliance on the Unknown and Divine. Jessie is a native of Virginia and currently serves on the board of directors of the Shalem Institute, an ecumenical contemplative organization based in Washington DC. Jessie shares part of her ongoing faith journey and desire to be in relation with the Divine which gives meaning to this season for her.
In just a few short years, my whole way of life has become intimately connected to technology to determine where I go and what I do, to know and even control the routes I take. I avoid going to a certain store when I find online that they don’t have a needed item in stock. I never have to wonder if someone tried to call me as it is all recorded. I don’t even have to own a car thanks to rideshare options.
And then, last summer, I lost my iPhone.
I quickly found my computer and emailed people letting them know of my predicament. The next morning, I searched online for a store where I could purchase a new device. I wanted to get an Uber to ride over but then realized that I couldn’t call one without my iPhone. I thought I might call the store to see if they had the iPhone that I was looking for in stock – but once again, realized I couldn’t ring them.
I memorized the way there as best I could, and began to walk. Halfway on my journey, I realized in a panic, that I didn’t know the hours the store was open. I reflexively thought to open my iPhone to search for the answer. Of course, that wasn’t possible.
Eventually, I spotted the company’s logo down at the end of the block, and sighed with relief when I saw the store was in fact open. Upon entry, I nervously asked if they had the model I was looking for, and the store manager blithely replied that they did, as if such a question was hardly one to grow anxious over.
In less than a few hours, I had my new device in hand, instantly texting everyone that I was reachable.
I was connected again.
And yet, we all know that this digital illusion of precision to our lives is not the whole truth of ourselves. On a more elemental level, our bodies and minds – and dare I say, souls – remain attendant to light and dark, to birth and death, to disease. We construct ways to order our days, our time, our life. Some of this is good and right. We sleep and wake. We eat and drink. We sustain our lives.
But, in the end for all our efforts, we cannot set exact timers to determine how and on what timeline our lives will unfold.
And it is in this space of uncertainty that we mark the coming of Christ and await the good news of unexpected arrivals. There is no technology that can guide this journey and no app to view its progress.
The shepherds receive the joyful news of a birth from the angels, Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah receives news of a longed-for birth, and Mary is reassured that she is not alone, but instead God is with her and she is favored by the Holy One. And whether asleep or awake, they all receive the same refrain: “Do not be afraid.” Fear overwhelms Zechariah. Mary is perplexed. The shepherds are terrified.
Like the shepherds, like Mary, and like Zechariah, there is a part of us that may dread the arrival of such visitations, even when it is our deepest longing.
I am struck by how often we pray fervently for what we desire. We long for what we do not yet have and wish nothing else than to be known and loved and be told of good news.
The future – however much we may delude or distract ourselves – remains unknown. We may long for divine presence, progeny, divine favor, but these are not things we can make happen.
Something confronts us and reminds us that there is more than just a future that is not yet charted. There is the impending arrival that we did not plan that comes in the night in a field, in a dream, or in the deepest sanctuaries of our lives, that portends something good is coming. And this scares us. For now, we know that something unknown is coming, something unplanned and perhaps sweeter than we imagined.
The journey of faith means I have to let go of my desire to control and determine each and every turn along the way. It is an invitation to trust in the dark, for the bright hope that will arrive among us once again. And – like Mary and her Magnificat, or Zechariah in his mute awe, or in the shepherds walking toward Bethlehem – we might wonder how we might prepare for God’s impending arrival. For me, I am going to take heart in what the angels proclaim: “Do not fear.” And I am going to remember Mary’s proclamation that God lifts up the lowly, and casts the mighty down from their thrones. God fills the hungry with good things. We are invited to see the world as God desires – a world of justice and peace, a world of freedom made for love. This season, I hope I will wait in the dark, loosening my grip just a bit, close my eyes, and listen for that divine, loving invitation for which my heart’s response will be “yes.”