The Right Address

      Comments Off on The Right Address

You received this email because 51 years ago Ray Tomlinson spent a few hours messing around.
Tomlinson was a computer programmer working with ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet.  In 1971 a whopping 15 computers had been linked to each other.  Ray thought it might be useful one day to send messages between computers.
The trick was to figure out a way to personalize the messaging – for one person to contact exactly one other person.
After about six hours of tinkering in his spare time – “I had real work to do, too,” Ray points out – he sent a test message from one computer to another one a few feet away.  Bingo.  Ray Tomlinson is credited with both sending and receiving the world’s first email.
Now he needed a symbol to denote an email’s destination.  “I got there first, so I got to choose any punctuation I wanted.”
Ray had about a dozen options.  He was quickly drawn to @, the symbol which appears above the 2 on a standard keyboard.   In the marketplace, @ already meant “at” – as in, 6 grapefruits @ 50 cents = $3.00.  Tomlinson figured the @ could separate the name of the user from the machine the user was on. 
And just like that, one of the enduring icons of the digital age was born. 
No one – certainly not Tomlinson, pictured above – had any clue how much his little gimmick was going to impact the world.
Today there are more than 7 billion registered email accounts, which is not bad for a planet with 7.97 billion inhabitants.  Approximately 3 million emails are sent every second, which means 259 billion messages arrive in various inboxes every 24 hours.
That’s not to say that most of them are worth reading.  About two-thirds of all emails are spam.  Even with filters working overtime, American office workers classify only 14% of their emails as “important.”  The rest are advertisements, dad jokes, letters from Nigerian princes, morning reflections, you know, stuff like that.
The @ tells us where to direct our correspondence.  If we don’t get the destination exactly right – the address on the other side of the @ symbol – even our most brilliant thoughts, sincere emotions, and crucial messages will get lost in cyberspace.  Or they will bounce back to us with that most depressing of all labels:  undeliverable. 
A single misspelling is enough to derail the most important email of your life.  Computers can do a lot of wonderful things.  But they cannot forgive your keyboard errors.
What about the messages and prayers we are desperate to share with God?
In his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul says something remarkable:  The Holy Spirit routs all of our prayers to the right address.
“God’s Spirt is right alongside, helping us along.  If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.  He does our prayer in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  He knows us far better than we know ourselves… and keeps us present before God” (Romans 8:26-27, The Message).
We can scream, groan, laugh, cry, rage, or just hang our heads in silence.  We can mess up our words and mess up our theology.
But no matter what we say (or don’t say), the cries of our hearts will reach God’s ears.
That’s because the Holy Spirit is God’s @ sign. 
And he always delivers our messages to the right address.