In an age when families no longer eat dinner together, children watch TV, play computer games, and text message their friends from their bedrooms. When adults can be seen walking in our cities talking on cell phones. At a time in our history when people can be sitting in a cafe with friends, all the while talking to someone else on a mobile phone, we have become a people living together in isolation.
Even in our spiritual lives we tend to be living in isolation. Many reserve their prayers to issues revolving around finances, or prayers offered regarding their health, or that of a family member. Yet these people rarely think of the importance of corporate prayer with family and friends apart from the Sunday Liturgy. Prayer is a private matter, rarely shared with others. The fact that public prayer outside one’s parish is now frowned upon by the government, has further eroded our sense of corporate prayer as being something we, as a nation, value.
Entertainment has also taken on a central role in our lives, becoming so important as to have replaced visiting neighbors or friends. I’m old enough to remember the day when neighborhoods were filled with homes sporting large front porches. On those hot summer nights families would be sitting on their porches, sipping lemonade and waving at passing neighbors who were actually out for a stroll. Now we all have air conditioners, and front porches have been replaced with private back patios, where no one can see us. Gone are the days of neighborliness.
The Church is the Body of Christ and by Her very nature is anything but an institution wherein one can be isolated from others. We only let it be so if we fail to involve ourselves as the people of God, with one another. The greeting given by Orthodox Christians, passing on the holy kiss when we meet one another, or kissing the hand of our priest, are ways we avoid the isolation that dominates the society in which we live. Staying for the coffee hour, or the agape meal following the Sunday Liturgy, are ways in which we can do battle against the isolation that dominates the rest of our world. Attending midweek services is another way to stave off isolation.
Our youth need to learn from us the importance of communicating directly with their friends and family. Taking children out for a Sunday afternoon drive, exploring the country side, radio off, is a wonderful way families can reconnect. Taking grandmother on a family picnic to a local park, avoiding the back yard, is a wonderful, old fashioned way of introducing community to children. Letting them play with cousins in a park, as the extended family gathers for a picnic, can build families bonds that will last a lifetime.
When was the last time we sat around with a senior member of our family and asked them to share the memories of their youth? What a wonderful way to reconnect an aging grandfather to his own youth and show him that we value his life experiences and the memories of his own parents and grandparents. What an invaluable legacy we impart to our own children, when we let them know they were not born in a vacuum, but are a part of a long line of real people.
Isolation is a terrible threat to our way of life. Young people no longer have the communication skills that past generations learned from older family members. I am astounded when I think of how much of my grandparents are a real part of who I’ve become. It is not just genetics that they passed on to me, but memories of family history that was long gone when I was born. Even parts of my personality were gleaned from my great grandfather. My study, filled as it is with photographs, icons and collectibles, is a style that became my own, having loved the same clutter and warmth of my grandparents home.
Isolation does not have to be a part of our world. It just takes commitment on our part to build family and community. When people visit the monastery I routinely ask that they turn off their cell phones, so we can all leave isolation behind and connect as family, the children of the Most High. What a wonderful thing it would be if each family had two hours each night when the house phone, cell phones, the TV, and all other outside intrusions were banned. How about an evening of playing Uno, as a family, or putting a puzzle together? Then, end the evening with the whole family standing before the icon corner, doing the evening prayers!