Computers and iPhones, airplanes and air-conditioners, bless and praise the Lord! Though not found in the Bible, might this not be the prayer of a Christian today? In Scripture we praise God for what God has created: “Praise God, sun and moon; all you sea monsters, praise the Lord; wild beasts and tame animals, young men and old, praise the Lord” (Ps 148:3, 7, 10).
Since I have relocated to mid-Manhattan after 22 years in Africa, I now praise God for cellphones and escalators. Here on 56th Street, I hardly ever see the moon or the Milky Way, rarely see the sun rise or set and seldom hear the music of birds (except for pigeons). I am surrounded by concrete and plastic. Light comes from turning on a switch and only rarely from direct sunlight slicing down between 40-story skyscrapers. Hot and cold come from adjusting a thermostat.
Sure, I can and do walk to Central Park to glimpse the presence of God in the birds, grass, trees and waters there, and on the faces of the children asleep in their strollers. But if David or other composers of the psalms were alive today in New York City, what might they pick out to praise the Lord? Skyscrapers or refrigerators? Might they not pray that these manufactured inventions of humankind be seen as praising and serving the Lord?
St. Bonaventure wrote that God speaks to us not only in the Bible but also through the book of nature. Might we not now add a third book, the new world as remade, recreated by human ingenuity—the world of cars, shopping malls, computer screens and the Hubble Space Telescope—this new universe we inhabit? Pope Paul VI wrote, “If, in the past, nature was the intermediary between him [God] and the human mind, why should not the work of technology be the intermediary today?” Engineering and technology have indeed refashioned our everyday world.
In fact, the church encourages blessings for a number of human-made objects: automobiles and bicycles, fishing boats and aircraft, musical instruments and swimming pools. Through these blessings the church demonstrates that we can find and serve God through such human-made objects. Instead of distancing or separating us from God or becoming idols, they play an important role in our journey to God, provided we use them properly. God can and must be found, served and listened to in the board rooms of bankers and in the laboratories of Silicon Valley. Our cities must not be modern towers of Babel but the stirrings of the City of God.
Years ago, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council saw that the creative energy and inventiveness of human persons comes from God and can give glory to God. In “The Church in the Modern World” (No. 34), they wrote:
Far from thinking that works produced by men and women’s own talent and energy are in opposition to God’s power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s greatness and the flowering of God’s own mysterious design.
I thoroughly enjoyed my 20 years and more as a missionary priest in Africa. Today that missionary impetus shifts to a new challenge. As the theologian M.-D. Chenu, O.P., once wrote: “The technological civilization of today is a missionary territory” that has to be explored, mapped and evangelized. The Jesuit polymath and intellectual pioneer Walter Ong wrote in America back in 1996 that “computers were to be a part of God’s creation just as much as dinosaurs were.” Indeed: Computers and iPhones, bless the Lord!