Apple can do only so much.
It was my birthday. I was sitting at my desk at home, staring at my iMac. My mother called on the home phone plugged into the wall because that’s what older people do — call on landlines.
While we were talking, an iMessage popped up on my desktop from my daughter in San Antonio. It contained an embedded video from my two little granddaughters. Before I could open it, my wife’s iPhone rang. Our daughter and the girls were calling on FaceTime, so Kim brought the smartphone into my study and pointed it at the computer. I clicked on the video and watched the girls singing Happy Birthday to me and blowing out candles that their mother had put on a tray of brownies.
Meanwhile my mother in Tennessee listened on the landline and the girls in San Antonio watched themselves on my iMac while they were eating the brownies they had since rescued from the melting candle wax.
Two states, three cities, four generations and five technologies: all happening in “virtual” real time, if that’s not an oxymoron. When my mother was a child, her grandparents would have had to be in the room to wish her happy birthday in real time; otherwise it would have been a Hallmark card with a stamp from the post office. When I was that age, my grandparents might have called on a wired telephone. When my daughter was that age, it would still have been a landline.
Within the last thirty years, wow — we have had a communications revolution.
Or have we? We may have had only a communication device revolution. We have more ways to communicate today than at any time in the history of the world. And granted, we send more communiqués than every before. In addition to the abovementioned, we could include fax, Facebook, Twitter, Viber and all sorts of means of messaging.
But are we better communicators?
At the heart of faith traditions that derive from the God of Abraham is the claim that God has revealed God’s self to the world. God has broken through the sound barrier between heaven and earth and communicated with us.
At first it would have been a word that might have sounded like a gentle wind whispering sweet somethings of promised love in the ear of an unsuspecting lonely Bedouin. It could at times have sounded to a prophet like the roar of an angry sea at the idolatry and injustice between and within coastal kingdoms. In time those hardly audible words were written down, and the writing itself was occasion for tidings of judgment or joy.
Christians claim that the climax of God’s communication strategy with the world came when the Word came to live among us. God didn’t create advanced technologies to send new signals; the Word came in the flesh to bring the word afresh.
And that’s because true spiritual experience is always more about communion than communication. Intimacy can be intimated by mail, or by the book, or online. Being there brings the message home.
Bodily presence is the mystery that seals our hearts in love and binds us as one. Which is why Christians talk about the real presence of Christ in communion. We’re partaking together of the divine life.
There’s virtually no substitute for that. Really.