Change, inspired by prayer, opens us up to promising possibilities. OSV photo/ Mihoko Owada

Modify the world by deepening prayer

  • January 5, 2024

be transformed by the renewing of the mind ….
-- Romans: 12:2

I think we can all agree that mobile phones are now ubiquitous. What I hadn’t expected was that their impact was literally changing our body shapes.

Recent medical reports suggest that up to 30 per cent  of the population have noticed changes to their hands, attributed to swiping on cell phones. One condition is called “texting thumb.” What took millions of years of evolution now occurs in a single generation with doctors referring to another phenomenon, “smartphone pinky,” where the little finger is literally reshaped by the holding of cell phones.

While the indented phalanx is thought to be temporary, others speculate that over time the human species could actually evolve to accommodate the unique grip that is needed to hold and use a mobile phone for hours on end. And while not considered a serious health risk, doctors point out that other medical and social conditions can be exacerbated by the prolonged use and exposure to screen time, affecting everything from long-range eyesight to socialization skills.

More serious is the effect our addiction to screens is having on the rewiring of the brain itself, with some doctors speculating that the explosion of cases in ADHD is partially the result of children growing up with high-stimulant screens attached to their prams from the earliest age. What buys parents a bit of relief in the short term will cause them, and more importantly their children, lasting concentration difficulties in the longer term. A quick fix is not always the right fix.

Indeed, the situation is arguably even more dire, with one study showing parental distraction with their phones has led to a corresponding increase in emergency room visits for children under five years old. Other studies argue that an even greater crisis looms as parents disconnect from their children because of technology, and at precisely the most important time to be present.

Reading these studies made me ponder what it means to be transformed. There are superficial alterations, and more profound changes, with human beings transforming themselves with increasing ease — nose jobs, tummy tucks, implants of every kind. The list is endless. For many, these transformations are not taken lightly, and for others, as TV shows about plastic surgery make clear, surgical interventions become an addiction, filling lips, chiselling cheeks, removing ribs and more.

Surely, though, the most important transformation is spiritual rather than physical. The invocation from Romans could have been written yesterday: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2).

There would be few among us who are satisfied with how we look. But it is the mirror of the soul that is most important to confront. How do we effect a change that impacts a greater cause? How do we nip and tuck so that we are anchored in social justice, defined by the dignity of the human condition and steadfast in our celebration of community? And where would we stand if asked to account for ourselves at the gates of Heaven? I suspect there would be little sympathy for those who claimed they were too distracted to care for their neighbour but did this with stylish nonchalance. Changing our bodies is easy compared to the labour of the soul.

There is one last truism about change that is worth pointing out. A worthy transformation, one that is more than only skin deep, often flows from the individual to the community. A soul at peace emanates calm and goodness, and these qualities are contagious in the best of ways. In a world that seems more aggrieved and wounded than ever, prayerful goodness is desperately needed.

As we enter a new year, in a world awash with grief, it may serve us well to pause and reflect on changes we might make that will have a substantive impact on who we are and on those around us. It might behoove us to take a moment in deeper reflection, to ask God what we need to change. Prayer is sophisticated meditation, a portal to enlightenment at best and a salve for anxiety and uncertainty at worse. There is no downside to prayer. And change, inspired by prayer, opens the door to promising possibilities — and that’s always a good look.

(Turcotte is President and Vice-Chancellor at St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College, University of British Columbia.)

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