Reverent acknowledgement

Posted Feb 10, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Keith Anderson, guest blogger


My spiritual director is on Facebook. This means a great deal to me.

My spiritual director is Margaret Benefiel, a professor at Andover-Newton Theological School in Boston, author of several books on spirituality and leadership, and one of the digital ministry practitioners appearing in my forthcoming book with Elizabeth Drescher, Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible.

Margaret doesn't spend all that much time on Facebook. As she shared with us, "I can connect in basic, meaningful ways—‘liking’ something on someone’s profile or saying ‘Happy Birthday’—in about fifteen minutes in the morning or over a couple five minute breaks in my day. I’ve made a choice to be present, but it’s not an obsession."

With her likes and comments on Facebook and mentions and retweets on her new Twitter account, Margaret practices a wonderful form of "reverent acknowledgment."

Reverent acknowledgement is a phrase I first learned in Clinical Pastoral Education to describe a technique of pastoral care in which we are present to people in our care. It is a way of bearing witness, of beholding—their lives, their joys, and their struggles. The logic is that when people know they are heard, seen, and understood, they can be more open to God. In this regard, it is very much like spiritual direction.

Ministry leaders put a high value on this kind of ministry presence and yet oftentimes dismiss the importance of this presence in digital spaces. Margaret's wonderfully graceful example is a reminder of the importance of having ministers of all kinds present and engaged online.

I love that my spiritual director is on Facebook because she knows what is happening in my life between our monthly sessions. When we meet I am freed to focus less on the what of life and more on the how, why, and, most importantly, Who. It also reminds me that we live in the same world. She doesn't exist on some ethereal plane from which she descends once a month to meet me in the mess of my life. We both inhabit the spiritual and the temporal and do our best to hold them together. We live real lives. We are both learning. We both journey. The list of our common Facebook friends reminds me of our many points of connection—that we are part of a broader community.

As ministry leaders, our presence in digital social media can offer these same kinds of graces to people in our care.

When people we respect, whose opinion we value, and who serve as our spiritual guides reverently acknowledge our lives, this is a holy and powerful thing.

Each 'like,' comment, and shout-out—just like a quick call, a short note, or well-timed arm around the shoulder—carries a special meaning when they come from what one of my colleagues calls the "God-people" in our lives.

As ministry leaders know, relationships—both personal and pastoral—are made and nurtured through thousands of little things over time. Today those little things include ‘like’ buttons and 140-character prayers.

Keith Anderson
Keith Anderson is the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Massachusetts and co-author with Elizabeth Drescher of the forthcoming book Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012). He writes about social media, spirituality, and church at his blog pastorkeithanderson.net.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

6 Comments

  1. 1 David C. 31 Jan
    Are you receiving Direction online, via Skype, from Margaret or is she connecting with you via Facebook between your face to face times of Direction? I am also a Spiritual Director and find this additional connection interesting.
  2. 2 Keith Anderson 31 Jan
    Hi David. We meet in person once a month and then connect more informally on Facebook and Twitter. We tend to leave likes and comments on each other's Facebook posts. At times, I also message Margaret to let her know how things are going. So, we don't get too in depth online. Its not our primary way of doing direction. It's more about keeping it touch and reverently acknowledging one another between sessions.
  3. 3 Cynthia Astle 31 Jan
    I'm also in touch with my spiritual director through Facebook in similar ways. As a candidate for certification in spiritual direction, I find social media helpful in the ways that Keith describes. However, I don't think I'd try to conduct a full-blown SD session online. It seems to me that F2F is essential for good spiritual direction.
  4. 4 David C. 31 Jan
    Keith, Thanks for clarifying how you do this. I agree that F2F is best for SD. May I ask how long you've been connected with your Directors and how long you've been Facebook connected? Are you anticipating a long-term connection with your Director's (more than 3 - 5 years)?
    I am one of the faculty for a Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Director training Program, which is currently a three year process. Would you consider SD via internet to continue that connection should you have to move or for Cynthia once you've finished your training program?
  5. 5 Keith Anderson 31 Jan
    I wouldn't want to do spiritual direction via social media all the time, but on occasion, when it would not be possible to meet otherwise, I think a Google+ Hangout would work just fine. I've done spiritual direction groups via conference calls. It's not the same as in person, but when we focus on the quality of our presence, we do find sacred ground.

    David, you raise a great point about continuing SD beyond a time when a program ends or we are no longer physically near enough to meet. That seems like really a new kind of thing for these types of relationships. I myself would be open to doing that. Particularly in times of transition, whether they be the end of a program, a move, or whatever, having a steady spiritual, grounding presence would be a great gift. Maybe you could set a six month or year window and agree to reevaluate at that agreed upon point.
  6. 6 David C. 31 Jan
    Re-evaluating is always good especially when experimenting with a long distance connection. Like you, I am also clergy, and wonder when the time comes for that next move or appointment, or new call to another parish setting,can I or should I try to keep connection with my own S.D. and/or my directees?

    Currently most of my directees are students in our program. Once they have finished the program they tend to move on to do their own Direction and receive receive Direction else where. This is something my other Director/Leader collegues and I are discussing.

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