This week, we begin a
six-week Lenten series, Prayer and social media.
have a friend who stopped posting Facebook statuses and reads them as her
prayer journal instead … like that’s her prayer time as she reads X number of
statuses,” says Susie Shaefer,
a young Episcopal clergy woman. “I have another friend who starts all of her
Facebook statuses with her prayer list, like ‘Elaine is praying for blah, blah,
blah, period,’ and then her status update, ‘great morning at church. I can’t
wait for the picnic’” (from “Webs of interconnectivity: Inhabiting the world of The Young Clergy Women Project
,” New Media Project case study, 2012).
Christian prayer practices and beliefs vary widely from
tradition to tradition, region to region, and, of course, person to
person. From communal prayer in local
worship to public prayer in the public square, from individual prayer before
bedtime to family prayer before a meal, ‘prayer’ is defined differently in various
contexts, and through many theological lenses. Harry Emerson Fosdick described
prayer as, “neither chiefly begging for things, nor is it merely self-communion;
it is that loftiest experience within the reach of any soul, communion with
God” (The Meaning of Prayer
Association Press, 1920).
One’s beliefs about God do begin to come into focus as one thinks
about what prayer is—Is God one who delivers requests? Is prayer meant to
change us or does it impact God? What does it mean for God to answer prayers?
What kind of God doesn’t relieve the suffering of a struggling soul on her
knees in prayer? How do the promises of God in scripture engage the supplicant?
What then happens when we introduce entirely new
communication media like social media into these questions? Is the range of Christian
prayer discipline and belief wide enough to include those that occur mostly or
solely online? Are social media the kind
of media that can aide prayer, or do they hinder prayer? Even if we just considered Fosdick’s
definition of prayer as communion with God, can it happen online? Can we
commune with God in a digital format?
This blog series on Prayer and Social Media will consider some
of these questions as the writers address the topic from their own various
theological and ecclesiological perspectives. For example, next week Jim Rice will write from a Mennonite/Anabaptist
perspective, and he will undoubtedly raise new questions for the following
writers as he engages these questions.
Probably what you won’t find in this series is a list of websites that offer
prayer resources. That’s a bit too much
like taking an old resources and repackaging them for a new day, and that’s easy
enough to search on your own. We want to
get at something deeper—does prayer happen differently in a world shaped by
social media? We may offer a list of websites and platforms that can help us
think creatively about the intersection of prayer and social media. And maybe some good ideas about how to be
prayerful while using social media. Susie Shaefer said she and her younger clergy colleagues want to know
what to do to make their use of technology prayerful. That’s a great question.
I’ll close with another story from a New Media Project case
study for our ponderings on prayer:
Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, told about “the
church starting a Google prayer group, so that members can log on and tell
their ill companion she’s being prayed for. That way one can watch as a prayer
chain forms visibly before her eyes. Bolz-Weber [reflected] that pastoral care
is communal, not simply individual, and can come in short increments—in
precisely the sort of attention-span-deprived bursts in which newer generations
specialize. … The beneficiary of the Google thread laying out the community’s
prayer commented this way: ‘Thanks for all your prayers and support. It’s my
first experience with the support of a Christian community (well, any community
for that matter) and its pretty … amazing’” (from “Case study report on House for All Sinners and Saints
,” New Media Project, 2011).
Verity A. Jones is the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, and project director of the New Media Project which is now part of this new Center. 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 email@example.com.