The Rotterdam Zoo hands out “no eye contact” eyeglasses that for people interested in watching the apes. The gorillas perceive direct eye contact as aggressive, and have been known to attack humans innocently watching them. So the zoo has made wearing these glasses mandatory. There is a hole, of course, so that the person behind the glasses can watch the apes but the apes think that everyone is distracted by a cloud that looks like a bunny or a balloon caught in the branches of a tree.
These would be a great for the ushers to hand out, and unlike the tree-killer bulletins, they’re reusable. Eyeglasses like that would eliminate that awkward fifteen to twenty minutes you’re waiting, mindfully, while the faithful gather around you.
Our social cognition has not quite evolved to the point where we can intuit what is the right amount of time you can make eye contact with a stranger – or even a friend – in church. It’s a little like there not being a word for that face-on, side-to-side dance people do when they try and pass each other in the hall. Moreover, in church, we’re not sure about the smile, or saying hello, or giving a hug. These glasses would help a whole lot. We could be contemplating the architecture in a prayerful manner. Do not disturb – noli perturbare.
Despite all, isolated by pews and aisles and custom from the other worshipers, I can get my bearings and attempt to soften my heart for communal prayer. When I sit for personal prayer, I get out my Bible, my journal, possibly a book of meditations or theology, and I sit in silence. There is never really any silence; part of the discipline is to take in the ambient sounds, integrating them in my prayer life.
I sit down with an awareness that there is a sound besides the human ones, persistent, inescapable, and evocative of…what is bubbling up in my memory?
Vincent Price. The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Ah yes – the organ!