One early morning in June, just as the sun highlighted the red-tiled roofs of Lisbon, I walked down the street to a pastry cafe, pastelaria. Elderly folks chatted at the counter with the barista, who had been up since 5am receiving the pastry and bread delivery. A middle-aged man read the paper. Two women walked in to take their seats. A cyclist leaned on the counter, taking huge bites of a baked good. People continued to stream in. But something is odd.
People were looking around aimlessly, making eye contact and smiling or resting their hands on their chins and just thinking. I am not used to this in cafes. Is no one looking at a mobile device? I scanned the room. Yes, one man sitting alone in the back was keeping company with his screen. Except for him, I felt like I could strike up a conversation with any of these people and I wouldn’t be interrupting, wouldn’t be intruding in their private space. The atmosphere was open, warm and friendly.
This type of cafe life is a disappearing commodity. Normally morning endorphins pump and minds (including my own) have been conditioned to seek pleasure out of instant updates and feeds. Being still, thinking, a smile and greeting, do not gratify the person I have conditioned myself to be. But ten minutes into this screen-less setting, and I start to see people. They are not moving objects of distraction or potential threats to my privacy or personal space, but image bearers of God.
Like me, they are people created to be in relationship with their Creator and other people, face to face. Relationships are cultivated through conversation – listening with undivided attention, sharing and responding. But are our faces accessible for conversations? By our posture do we convey I am availabe to converse? Or do our eyes flutter between a handheld device on the table and a companion’s general direction?
I am called to repent of the distractions that become idols and draw me away from face to face time with people. But more importantly I am called to repent of the distractions that pull me away from face to face time with the Creator. Am I the only one who meditates on news headlines before I meditate on the Word of God? Am I the only one who journals my thoughts before I’ve filled my mind with the truth of God’s Word? Am I the only one who’s tempted to read online Christian articles instead of start my reading with the written Word of God?
Back in the cafe I finish my custard tart (pastel de nata) and latte (galão) and open my Bible. This is the relationship that needs cultivating. My fingerprints should be all over these pages. What is found inside frames my perspective on everything that might pop up on my screen. It frames how I will interact with that person – these people – God has placed in front of me, face to face.