As a young new priest, I came to be well known for the size of my pockets. They bulged and overflowed with mysterious contents that were often the subject of idle speculation. Yes, I was ready for anything!
This morning, I went through that time-honoured ritual of the Coptic priest: “the changing of the cassock”. Perhaps not as glamorous as Buckingham Palace’s changing of the guard, it is an exercise that is no less important, nor, as it turned out, instructive.
For I realised that this morning as I transferred things from the old cassock to the new that the contents of my pockets are but a pale shadow of their former selves. I bulge no more…
And I could trace the reasons why. As a young priest I wanted to be sure that I had the keys to everything. I didn’t want to ever be stuck outside a door at Church unable to get in. Today, it doesn’t seem to matter that much anymore. If I can’t get in to that room, I just find somewhere else … and life goes on.
As a young priest I carried in my pockets a Bible, an Agbia, a diary for appointments, a bulky mobile phone, a bulky book of addresses and telephone numbers and a notebook to scribble in. Plus two very hefty bunches of assorted keys. It helped me feel I was equipped for anything that might come my way. Today, all those things (except the keys), together with a dictionary, a thesaurus, an encyclopaedia, innumerable newspapers, a street directory, the White Pages and the Yellow Pages, an audio player, a video machine, a camera, a photo album, a full set of the Katameros for every season (daily liturgical readings), a Synaxarium (daily stories of saints) and much more besides all sit in my pocket in just one compact device, on my tiny little iphone.
My world has changed. And I have changed.
Gadgets like an iphone make our world that much more convenient. It is a seismic shift that I suspect will not only make our lives more convenient, but change the very way we think and deal with our world. Gone are many of the little obstacles in life that sometimes infuriated us, but often taught us patience and perspective, and forced us to be resourceful. So many of the opportunities for genuinely original thinking that those frustrations represented have all but disappeared from our lives. A good thing, or a bad thing? Who knows, but our world has changed.
And I have changed with the years. I have become a much less stressed out individual. Through repeated experience, I finally appear to be learning that God is indeed in control, and that there is nothing the world can throw at you that you and God can’t handle. Another lesson from experience is just how much time and effort we waste on inconsequential matters. Today, I hope that I am targeting my time and energy on things that make more of a difference (but you can never be sure). I have learned not to worry or be disappointed when things don’t go your way. They will go God’s way, in the end. There is no longer any doubt in my mind on that.
And so, the slow evacuation of my pockets in a way mirrors another emptying; the emptying of my ego. There is no longer a need for many of those “I” statements that human beings are so addicted to. “I failed / I succeeded”; “I can’t do this”, “I am disappointed”, “I don’t like this”: these and many more, like the many items in my pockets of old, have outlived their usefulness and been replaced with something much smaller, much better, and much lighter to carry. Instead of all the many “I”s, now I mostly carry just one “Thy”: “Thy will be done”. And I’m learning to carry it with a smile.
Where will all this end? I look forward to the day when my pockets can be completely empty, when I can carry around all that I need within the compact little device called “me”. Because in the end, what DO I really, really need to get through life? All those material items are helpful, but none are truly essential. One thing only is essential:
The presence of Christ: not in my pocket, but in my heart.