The Telephone

Benedict Luckhurst

According to a press report, the actress Keira Knightly deliberately ignores her mobile when it rings, much to the displeasure of her mother. Keira said: “My mobile phone doesn’t really get answered a lot. I don’t like talking on the phone, which is a nightmare because my mother does.” Doubtless Keira’s celebrity status is the principal reason why she ignores phone calls, but I am pleased to be in such good company. Indeed, I will take my aversion a step further and pronounce a curse on the day the telephone was invented and a thousand curses on the day the mobile telephone was conceived.

I am in a deep sleep or enjoying an afternoon nap, the phone rings. I am praying, the phone rings. I am cooking, the phone rings. I am eating, the phone rings. I am washing up, the phone rings. I am reading, the phone rings. I am in the bathroom, the phone rings. I am watching a favourite TV programme, the phone rings. I am listening to music, the phone rings. It can only be the invention of Satan!

Irascible, belligerent, irritable: I admit to them all when it comes to life with the telephone. In my increasing desire for solitude and to taste something of the eremitical life, the culmination of many years of searching, the sound of a telephone ringing is an intrusion and a source of constant irritation. The answer would be to remove the irritant completely, landline and mobile; but, for the time being, this is not a viable option.

Over the past six years, I have vacillated wildly between wanting a man in my life and living alone as a celibate semi-hermit. Two years ago, again after many years of debate and searching, I finally became a Benedictine oblate; which is to say, that I took the Rule of St Benedict as my guide and allied myself to a particular community while continuing to live and work ‘in the world’.

John Henry Cardinal Newman composed a meditation on vocation, a framed copy of which resides in my oratory, it begins:

My God, you have created me for some definite service. You have given some work to me which you have not given to another. I have my place in your plan. I may never know what it is in this life, but I will be told it in the next. Therefore, I will trust you in all things.

To find trust when we are unsure of our direction or purpose in life is often difficult for us to grasp. In seeking to do God’s work, the authenticity of the call to do “some definite service” may be discerned in the form of an insistent call that does not go away. In the end, it becomes so insistent that there is no choice but to act upon it. This invariably means having to let go of other fondly held dreams and ambitions.

A factor in the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Church was that although these men and women went off into the desert to escape the pressures of contemporary life and strive to follow Christ in solitude, they were often thwarted in their quest by the demands of those who sought them out for their wisdom and to learn from them. In time the Desert Fathers and Mothers attracted disciples and the cenobitic life – the life of a community of fellow-seekers – emerged.

Call me sad, call me stupid, apply to me any epithet you choose, I will accept them all because I have reached a point when I want to shout, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” I work alongside a young man who spends a disproportionate amount of every working day feverishly exchanging text messages instead of applying himself to his work, with the result that he is at imminent risk of losing his job. Others of my acquaintance are hooked on social networking sites, garnering as many ‘friends’ as they can muster while at the same time rueing the lack of a significant other in their life. We are so softened by sensual and sexual indulgences; bound by the chains of avarice; preoccupied with worldly affairs; possessed by our achievements, qualifications, position in society to the extent that we are hungry but remain clueless as to how that hunger is to be satisfied. In a world of plenty we are in the grip of famine. The believer will identify this hunger as a hunger for the word of God.

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