Enhanced, or Transcendent?
They stroll across Lombard Street alone or in small packs, sometimes two, three, or five people moving slowly. Or they emerge from the park near the fountain, head toward the street, then without notice turn and retrace their steps back into the park. Even in a group, each one holds stays focused on a cell phone screen. Or perhaps two. Or three. Clutched in one or both hands, sometimes juggled together with a third, the phones clearly control the movements of the walkers. They are searching, or following – it’s hard to tell which.
I’ve never played Pokemon Go, so I cannot be sure that this is what occupies the wanderers outside my office window overlooking Vander Veer Park. Nor could I reasonably assess the value or appeal of the game. It may be edifying and enlightening. It certainly is popular, generating millions of dollars a day and installed on over 100 million smartphones. So my guess is that it is Pokemon Go passing my window.
Several things fascinate me in what I see. First, I notice the singularity of each player. As I’ve already noted. Even in a small group there’s no noticeable interaction, only a kind of “parallel play.” Second, the park itself is encountered through their screens. Rarely do they look up or sideways to catch the flash of a bird’s plumage or the darting twitch of a squirrel’s tail. Third, many drive to the park to play. Their pace contrasts dramatically with the walkers who regularly lap the park several times in their Spandex seriousness set to an internal metronome or the beat of a podcast. Admittedly, as a lifelong golfer, I could be accused of hypocrisy to suggest that this seems to be a solitary, pointless walk in the grass; point well taken. But it did recently sharpen my appreciation of another small group.
It’s a group I haven’t seen playing Pokemon Go. I encountered them at Ridgecrest Village, where I was invited to share lunch and a Bible study in the assisted living neighborhood. Six of us around the table could collectively add up more than 500 years of life experience, and I was clearly the youngest. Despite mobility, hearing, and vision problems that might seem to be limitations, the women in the group are deeply familiar with one another and enjoy their sense of shared community. They know one another’s stories and family relations and keep up with the details. They are not alone.
Although we were together for the purpose of the Bible study, when a food service worker came in with an urgent request for prayer, the women welcomed the interruption as an opportunity to respond. They noticed. They heard the cause, checked the details, and then took time to pray for someone they would probably never meet – a nephew of one of the staff, who would undergo a heart transplant that afternoon. Only when that had been offered could the conversation and Bible study resume.
There is purpose that gives shape to their days. “No time to sit around” – from breakfast to exercise to prayer chain to lunch and Bible study, then to sing-along and Lord-only-knows-what-else. Each morning brings something to anticipate. The Bible study was on Psalms 71 with its focus on hope and the future. “Without hope, there’s just nothing but despair,” said one. “Hope is what keeps us going. That, and faith. Because hope is just about what my little self can imagine. Faith is about a bigger picture that brings me along. So then I have to keep up.” They do not meander.
These women have no doubt that they know God through their relationships, their Bibles, their prayers, and their hymns. All that real-world stuff is what has connected them to a God they cannot see, who has been with them through thick and thin along life’s long journey. It’s what continues to nurture their hope and faith.
Smartphone “enhancement” of reality is a testimony to human creativity and technology, creating an alternate universe to experience within the confines of a small screen. The women of Ridgecrest quietly offer their own, different testimony. Restricted as their mobility may be, they insist on keeping contact with one another and a much wider world beyond, unbounded in its reach across lives and generations and continents. No enhancement necessary.
The world – just as it comes to us – bears God’s presence and power to us. God has come into the world in manifold ways to stretch it toward holiness, and to stretch our horizons. The spirit of God lives among us, inviting us beyond what we see and hear and can hold in our hands.