I recently took a welcome week away from work for a spiritual retreat. It was hard for the first two days not to call my home and work phones for messages or not to wonder whether I'd left loose ends dangling (the answer to that is always yes). About the third day I began really to be there, to receive the blessing of quiet time, reflection, prayer, worship, and unhurried conversation about things that matter. My sense of spiritual refreshment was palpable by the end of the week. I breathed differently. I did not wake up with morning headaches. I walked in a keener awareness of God's enveloping presence.I came home renewed, enlivened, and ready to turn my mind again to work. Between home and school I had accumulated 47 phone messages and about 30 e-mail messages as well as a stack of mail.Some years back a friend made a simple observation: "Every piece of technology we invent changes the way we live." Communication technologies like the answering machine and e-mail are mixed blessings at best. I wonder sometimes whether they are blessings. Using them, we participate in a kind of collective self-delusion; we act as though we do not have to limit ourselves to the time and space we inhabit. We leave our voices in one place while we take our bodies elsewhere, assuming somehow we can recoup the time we were away from the phone by playing back a tape. Of course we can't; the time it takes to play back the tape and have the conversations we didn't have (because we were having other conversations) cuts into family time, writing time, sleep time, reading time.Films have taught us a similar lesson. In a film class I attended once, the instructor showed a four-minute clip of a street scene from an old Orson Welles film and a similar ...

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Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has taught at Princeton University, the College of New Jersey, Mills College, Dominican University, and Westmont College. She now teaches at the UCSF/UC Berkeley Joint Medical Program and in the University Writing Program at UC Davis. Her column for Christianity Today appeared from 2000 to 2001.
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