Prayer in a Digital Age

As I drove back from the excellent Church and Media Conference I was privileged to attend earlier this week, I found myself trying to think through in greater depth something I had only lightly touched upon in my own remarks: prayer in a digital age.

Everything we do as Christians has to proceed from prayer, and prayer presupposes a humble, persevering quest for God, day in, day out. This searching is part of our experience of God, and I believe that trying to communicate that experience is probably the biggest single challenge facing us in what we do online. Looking at some of the developing technologies showcased in the BBC’s Blue Room made me realise that it should one day be possible to move from ‘displaying ‘ online to ‘immersing’ online, and perhaps a lot sooner than we imagine.

At the moment we are all locked into display mode. We set out our resources online and do our best to proclaim the truths we live by in as attractive and responsible a manner we can. But no matter how many glitzy add-ons we may try – edgy videos, livestreaming worship, interactive webconferencing, snazzy little smartphone apps – we are still essentially proclaiming, and I trust you’ll forgive me if I say it is all rather noisy. It is also a little bit seductive. We can get sidetracked by the technology and end up a long way from where we want to be.

Perhaps it is here that monasticism can make a contribution to prayer in a digital age. The monastic world is largely silent, one we deliberately choose to make as free from distraction as possible. As monks or nuns, our first and most important contribution must be prayer itself – unseen, unheard, offline. But as a corollary, I think we must also try to work towards introducing people to a different kind of digital experience, a more silent, immersive experience.

Moving from display mode to what I call immersion mode is very like the movement we make in prayer, from vocal prayer to something more meditative in which no words are needed. I have a hunch – and it is only a hunch – that we* may be able to find a way of helping others to do this online, using some of the evolving technologies. If so, I think we shall have found a way of fulfilling St Benedict’s first requirement on meeting a guest, to pray together, then treat him or her with loving courtesy. I pray it may be so.

*By ‘we’ I don’t necessarily mean our community here but the Monastic Order in general, especially those parts of it which engage with the digital world in a thoughtful and innovative way, and those who, technically more gifted, can see the point of what we are trying to do.

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6 thoughts on “Prayer in a Digital Age”

  1. This is truly fascinating, and raises an aspect of Christian presence online which has yet to be fully explored. One query I have, though, is this. Is there an ‘angularity’ to the interface with technology which inhibits such immersion – ie: techy ‘bits’ getting in the way?

    • I don’t think the technology HAS to get in the way. At present, we are probably a bit self-conscious about it if we haven’t grown up alongside it, but I find that those who have always known computers, etc. just take them for granted, much as we all do electric light switches and water from the tap.

  2. Perhaps the Quaker Online Meeting available at http://members.quakerworship.org/about-the-online-meeting-for-worship/
    could be considered a ‘digital, silent, immersive experience’.

    It is of course part of a very different faith tradition. In this experience I have found myself greatly strengthened to know that there is another sitting, as Friends do, in silence listening to/for the movement of the Spirit. Although I don’t have the words to describe it, sitting with another in this way, is different to sitting alone.

    • Yes. Do you remember, too, when Britsh television broadcast that vast crowd in London, praying silently together with the Pope in front of the Blessed Sacrament ? It came across with astonishing power.

    • Thank you for that link, Patricia, which I hope everyone who reads this blog will check out. It isn’t really what I have in mind, but it’s difficult to explain until I can produce some sort of model (if I can). Waiting on the Holy Spirit here!

      Good point, Eric, although being TV-free in the monastery I can’t comment personally.

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