I’m known among my friends and family as a staunch curmudgeon when it comes to technology – particularly regarding kids, teens and our collective use of smartphones and social media. Back in 2007, I peered at ads of the forthcoming iPhone with lots of suspicion and a little fear, much like the way one looks at a feral cat. Surely, it was the beginning of the end.
Has the screen outshined wonder and awe?
The good news: It’s 12 years later, and we’re all still here. But, I live with a constant, subtle discomfort—almost a sense of mourning. I often think about the things we’ve lost versus the things we’ve gained with the advent of mobile technology, and, more direly, with that powerful technology placed in the hands of children.
One of the many possible casualties of the screen-run world is the captivating delight and transformative power of wonder and awe. In a world where a tap or a swipe give us unlimited access to anything we want to see or know about, do kids really experience wonder and awe anymore? (Do we?) And if they do, have those once indelible experiences been dulled by the blue light of the screen?
When wonder and awe win out
On a recent family trip to Washington, D.C. (where I used my smartphone to take pictures and navigate downtown. Yeah, I know...), my ponderings were addressed and put to rest by our clever Lord, who—without question—knows better than those tech giants out west perched atop their manmade mountains. Throughout a surprising morning on the last day of our trip, God made it blatantly clear that wonder and awe are gifts from him given in abundance through the unfathomable beauty and humbling sanctification of our Church’s sacraments, liturgies and cultural treasury.
We decided to spend our last day in D.C. at the National Shrine and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land (a little-known gem built in 1897 to house replicas of shrines from Israel and Rome for people who could not afford to visit the Holy Land). I was curious: Could we move from chapel to chapel there as effortlessly as we did from site to site on the National Mall? Or would we leave behind a trail of scuff marks on the terrazzo, wearing down the tips of the kids’ tennis shoes as we dragged them through?
While it’s true that my kiddos don’t have tablets or phones, I doubted that a quiet monastery and cavernous cathedral on a drizzly day could compare to daring airplanes and space modules, giant dinosaur bones, the splendor of the White House or a real-life space shuttle. That flew in space. Thirty-nine times.
What unfolded at those holy places surprised my kids as much as it surprised me. They were excited to seek out saints. They stopped to pray at chapels, to stare at stunning mosaics. They clambered through dark and narrow catacombs, and they took in each sight and sound at Mass in the Shrine’s glittering crypt. Every one of their senses had become effortlessly engaged, and they were propelled to explore, see, feel, hear and pray. Wonder and awe.
Wonder and awe, a gift to be received
As I thought about our time in D.C. on the long drive home (thank you, Ohio), it dawned on me that while I’m both fearing and mourning the loss of so many things in our screen-run world, wonder and awe supplied by the Lord will never be dimmed. It was his gift of wonder and awe that compelled us to stop in our tracks and turn to him, even on an exciting trip. And it is his gift that allows all of us to experience wonder and awe again and again through the Sacraments, the Liturgy and the divine beauty found in our Church’s holy sites.
Fears quieted (thank you, Lord), I settled into the happy realization that these divine gifts can captivate us more than any app on any screen. We simply have to let them.