New telephones are being installed this week in Ottilia Hall, planted like row crops up and down the corridors. This will give us plenty more phones than we had before the renovation and will enable us to make and receive calls without the inconvenience of a long, long walk to answer a phone that is far, far away.
This is a good thing, I know. But as I watched workmen plant cords into jacks like seeds into earth, I found myself mourning the loss of that lengthy walk. It is one more example of the many ways in which inconvenience is disappearing from our culture. We shop at the click of a mouse, and a package soon arrives on the doorstep. A single, big-box store offers an endless inventory and the ease of one-stop shopping. Vegetables arrive pre-peeled and pre-sliced. It seems our entire consumer culture is oriented toward convenience.
I wonder whether the loss of inconvenience is part of what makes us thirst for that which no fast food soda fountain can ever provide: silence, wonder, and the sense of the passage of time that one feels when expending real effort and real minutes in the pursuit of something good. I also wonder how on earth we can cultivate the virtue of patience in a world marked by the tyranny of the urgent. And discernment becomes a lost art as nearly everything becomes possible, and easy.
The inconvenience of a back road, the long way home, the hand-written note, the home-cooked meal…each has value beyond itself. Moments (or hours!) of inconvenience are moments into which silence can slip in, unexpected encounters can enliven, frustration and failure can blossom into growth, and we can realize that our illusion of control is just an illusion. Inconvenience can also alert us to a greater sense of the real cost – in time and in effort – of what we are striving for, perhaps calling us to discern whether what we are seeking is truly worth being sought. You might say that inconvenience has the capacity to grace our lives with holy labor, holy leisure, and wisdom – if only we are open.
Each night, we preface Compline with a brief prayer to Our Lady of Prompt Succor. It includes the petition “hasten to help us.” For me, this is both a prayer and a way to reframe the sense of urgency that seems to dominate our culture. Is the ‘ready at hand’ a convenience that will bring succor, solace, beauty, goodness, and/or help? Or will it merely tempt us to jump into the stream of urgency that dominates our lives at the expense of silence, leisure, attention, and good honest labor?
The new crop of phones will make our steps more efficient and shave moments, sometimes minutes, off the task of answering phone calls. But this isn’t just about efficiency or urgency. It is a way of caring for those Sisters for whom a long walk down the corridor poses a challenge. It is also a way to greet callers with greater courtesy and respect. In both these cases, the new phones allow us to “hasten to help.”
I’m a back roads kind of person who typically prefers the slow lane. But I can certainly fall prey to haste and the prioritization of convenience. When I do seek the convenient route, I pray that it not be under a false sense of urgency and importance, but rather in the service of beauty, goodness, and yes, prompt succor to those around me.