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Present to God, not to the phone

19 February 2016

LENT started late for me this year. When I was a pious lay person (instead of the raddled old cleric I am now), I used to look ahead to Lent, planning my routine of abstinence with military precision — even, one year, starting a few days early to get into practice.

This year, however, Lent has hit me like a train, far too soon after Candlemas, giving the briefest respite of green vestments and Ordinary Time. It is difficult to catch up when you are supposed to be slowing down.

It is only now that it has started that I am beginning to understand what, for months, has been getting in the way of prayerfulness. For me, it is electronic media and the permanent twitchiness that it induces. I am constantly flitting about on the iPad, either reading The Times online, or (yes, this a confession) struggling with Level 127 of Candy Crush on my iPhone, on which stage I have been stuck for several months.

For those who are not veterans of the electronic game Candy Crush, Level 127 is not so nerve-racking that your teeth are set on edge, like those dreadful levels where you are terrorised by encroaching chocolate or about-to-explode bombs. Level 127 pretends to be easy, and is even appealing with its moving underbelt — so like the elegant dishes going round in a sushi bar — and its spinning plates, which fire off the much-to-be-desired small pieces of wrapped candy that help you to fulfil the task of collecting all the orders.

And, no, I don’t know what purgatorial online restaurant I am supposed to be waiting tables in, and anyway, the whole game is impossible: there are several websites devoted to giving hints on how to get through it, but none has worked for me so far.

The twitchiness induced by all this gets into the soul over time. It certainly has dug into mine. Concentration gets harder; thoughts speed up and fragment as fingers itch to tap out another attempt. I used to do meaningless doodles when I got bored in meetings. Now, I am aching to scan my emails, or check how many steps I still have to do to reach my daily goal.

I am not intending a total fast from electronic devices; just a bit of damage-limitation. I want only to be alone when alone, and present to others when present to others, and more present to God than I am to my mobile. There used to be real space in Lent, and that is what I want to rediscover, even if it is a little belated — and how to complete Level 127, of course.


The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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