Connectivity – a doublespeak word if there ever was one.
It is, in fact, dis-connectivity. Life through devices makes us not present in our immediate world and takes us outside of ourselves and into the world of entertainment, sports, social media, etc.
My favorite is the commercial for some streaming service where the guy says “Now you watch movies on your phone,” as if watching a film designed for a theater screen on a 2-inch by 4-inch screen is some kind of treat.
As a watch people texting furiously in every down-second they have, including in stop-and-go traffic, I wonder about this urgency to always be connected. Moms with babies in the stroller, on their phones. Couples at dinner, on their phones. Teenagers hanging out, on their phones.
Call me crazy, call me a cynic, call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think this constant barrage of connectivity and entertainment is designed to make phone addicts of us all, clamoring for the newest gadgets and apps, compulsively checking social media and email, piling up more data and usage fees for being always online. It is designed to take us away from our inward selves, away from reflective thought because, well, there’s no money in that.
But also call me guilty. I have found myself doing all of the above, except buying new phones and apps. Too complicated.
The point is, in our world today, any chance to go offline and disconnect from all stimulation is very rare. Twelve hours? Unheard of.
And that’s why tonight, Holy Thursday in the Catholic Church and Maundy Thursday in some Protestant faiths, has become so precious to me.
This is the night of “The Watch” and the darkest hours vigil that begins after the Holy Thursday evening Mass and ends at dawn on Good Friday.
“The Watch” is a commemoration of the start of 72-hour whirlwind of events in the capture, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The words are a reference to the dialog between Jesus and Peter, who falls asleep after Christ asks him to stay with him and pray.
"What, you could not watch with me one hour?" he admonishes Peter.
In this sequence of events Christ is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sensing his impending fate, he goes off to pray. He asks the disciples to keep watch but they fall asleep.
In some churches, plants or other greenery represent the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’s loneliness is represented by the dark church, where parishioners come in shifts through the night and sit wordless, without a whisper.
I returned to my faith several years ago, led by four women that included my mother, now 95, two female Episcopalian priests, and someone I loved.
My first recent “Watch” was two years ago, more than a half century from my last. I can’t even believe those words as I write them. Fifty years. Where did they go?
For a 10-year-old altar boy at St. Teresa's Church in Summit, The Watch was a spookier night than Halloween. By far.
The vast church was lit only by red glow of the devotional candles and few weak flames of altar candles, which always seemed to be close to flickering out. The statues were covered in a dark purple velvet, outlined in the ghostly light. Beyond, the soft ambient yellow halos of the altar candles, there was nothing but eternal black. And from the darkness, the creaking of an opening door would be heard, footsteps would draw nearer and either an Italian widow in black or Sister in Charity in full, dark blue habit would ethereally emerge from the shadows.
Daylight couldn't come fast enough.
Now, in my reflective years, it comes too fast.
It is my tradition to spend all night in my church, a Gothic classic of dark wood pews and stained-glass windows of rich but muted colors. There, in the dark and the night, it is a marathon of reflection, prayer and will to stay focused on both and fight off sleep. It is a night for expressing gratitude, uncorrupted by the trivial annoyances that come in the day and light. The quiet allows for clarity. Clarity brings appreciation for a life, in its simplest form. Living. We often take it for granted. As we do love.
In one of Christ’s last acts, he washed the feet of his disciples and left them with this mandate: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
He called it his "final commandment."
Now, as always, the news tells us his words are hopelessly out of reach. But news events are born from conflict, war, political upheaval, economic strife, and the like.
In day-to-day life, however, there is much more loving of one another than the news – or history – would have us believe. It is in our homes, our neighborhoods, our towns.
It’s hard to remember when we are bludgeoned by troubling news and the grating screeds of political and media voices that exploit our differences, rather than explore our similarities. Those voices that stoke hate rather than hail love.
These are the things I think about as I sit in the dark. I think about the truth of life and the beat of the heart and how it nourishes the soul.