Dear brothers and sisters,
Most of you are probably familiar with the military acronym AWOL, Absent Without Leave. It refers to persons who have left their posts without permission (but who have not permanently deserted.)
In the midst of Lent, I want to re-purpose the same acronym. I think many of us are regularly Absent Without Leaving. In other words, we may be physically present (or at least virtually present on a phone call or video chat), but we are emotionally absent, our minds and hearts engaged somewhere else.
Such absences take place when we are in the presence of family or friends but we get lured away by a tweet, a text, or just being online. It is common to watch families or groups at a meal together while each one focuses on a device. Rather than talking with each other, they are absent without leaving. To put it another way, they have chosen virtual presence over real presence.
Let me encourage you to use Lent to find ways to combat being AWOL as in this new definition. A (very) secular book, The End of Absence, described how we have entered a new age where it is now much harder to be absent, to be disconnected. It chronicled the author’s journey to learn online absence in order to be more peaceful and more present with others.
Along similar lines, Christian leaders Amy Crouch and her father Andy Crouch have recently released their book My Tech-Wise Life. You may well want to join me in reading it during Lent.
Yet I want to challenge us to go one step further. I think all our devices, and our ever-present access to the internet, create a type of spiritual AWOL. Jesus added these words to what we commonly call the Great Commission, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) It is a powerful promise that he is always present with us, never absent.
But before this promise comes a short command which we often miss. Consider the word translated as “behold” in the English Standard Version. It is sometimes translated as “look” or “remember” in other versions of the Bible. In the Greek original, it is a forceful demand to focus on something awe-inspiring. Perhaps we can get closer to the meaning by translating the verse, “You must pay careful attention to the amazing reality that I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Sadly we can be so constantly attached to the endless stream of information that we can’t behold Jesus with us moment by moment. If we allowed for daily moments of tech absence, imagine what we could say to him, even more, what we might hear from him.
I need to grow here along with you. Let us pray for one another.
Let us allow for moments of silence in Jesus’ presence, being ready to pay attention to him. That would be much better than being emotionally and mentally Absent Without the Lord, truly the worst type of AWOL.
In Jesus Emmanuel, God with us,
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese