GPS – or Sat Nav – as we call it in England is all the rage. When my wife and I rented a car in Los Angeles we found to our surprise that it had GPS already installed. We got to our destination before we had figured out how to make it work.
What an extraordinary innovation. GPS knows where we are the whole time and gives precise instructions in what is close to our language and corrects us automatically and loudly if we fail to follow the spoken instructions. It is not infallible. Horror stories and even newspaper pictures testify to large trucks being stuck in country lanes, or cars trying to take a road that has been closed or going the wrong way up a one-way street which has changed its directional flow. It may if relied on too long make us nations of drivers incapable of following maps.
New technology can remind us of old wisdom.
Frank Buchman, an American to whom I owe much of my knowledge of spiritual ways, was always seizing on the latest developments to underline spiritual truth and particular if it could illuminate the availability to all of divine guidance. In the 1930s he used as a mnemonic for PRAY, the words Powerful Radiograms Always Yours. On the occasion of a Scandinavia-wide broadcast he said, ‘We accept as commonplace a man’s voice can be carried by radio to the uttermost parts of the earth. Why not the voice of the living God as an active, creative force in every home,. Every business, every parliament? Miracles of science have been the wonder of the age. But they have not brought peace and happiness to the nations. A miracle of the Spirit is what we need.’
Remembering the first electric light and his friendship with Edison, Buchman said in the 1950s, ‘It revolutionised our living. It altered men’s thinking about the future. Is there today a discovery that can go into every home in every nation and unexpectedly bring an answer to our darkest problems?’ I heard him give a speech in in which he talked of ‘The electronics of the spirit.’ I think he would have had great fun with the possibilities of GPS.
In that speech he said, ‘Now electronics is a new science. Spirit has been known for a long time. But linked with electronics, it hitches the world to a new dimension of life and thought. Millions can speedily, automatically, yield to this new practice, the Electronics of the Spirit. Think of the veritable instantaneous reaction whereby a thought can travel across America in less than a fiftieth of a second. And now with electronics, in a flash you not only hear the voice but the time you speak is registered and you get the bill at the end of the month, all without any human aid.’ Think what Buchman would have made of email and the internet. And the instantaneous billing.
He introduced me and my family to the idea of seeking God’s guidance as a realistic practice. He believed that God had a plan in which we had a part, a contrast to the approach of some Christians who felt that they had a plan in which God had a part.’ He was much challenged early on by a friend who sent him a postcard with a man’s head on it. Underneath were the words, ‘God gave a man two ears and one mouth, why doesn’t he listen twice as much as he talks.’ Many a time he would say, ‘When man listens God speaks, when man obeys God acts. When men change, nations change.’ He meant women, too.
As a teenager I was handed a ‘listener’s notebook’, in which to record the thoughts that came in an early morning time of listening. I was taught that one should the test the authenticity of thoughts by comparing them with the teaching of my church and also by the measuring rods of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. I found that I could get thoughts of correction and direction. More than sixty years on I still practice that earlier rising, less formulaically perhaps, and some friends might say in a less disciplined way than I did in my first enthusiasm.
Thinking about technology I am reminded of a notice we used to have pinned up in our kitchen when we lived in the United States. I don’t know if this still happens but in those days when we listened to the radio there would sometimes be a loud piercing sound followed by an announcement that it was just a practice of the emergency broadcast system and that it if were a real emergency we would have been given relevant instructions. A friend in Oregon penned a parody: ‘This life is just a practice. If it is was a real life you would be told where to go and what to do.’
I wonder if Buchman would have talked of a spiritual GPS which would tell us how to get to where we wanted to go and would correct us when we had gone wrong.. I may still find dead ends and disappointments and am sometimes lost but I know that adequate instructions in my own language are out there if I am attuned. Once I mastered the basics I didn’t want to leave home without it.