This is the fifth of a six-week Lenten series on prayer and social media.
prayer is a tactile experience for me. In my denominational tradition, African
, we come to a wooden altar
at the front of the church, kneel, and pray. In my favorite worship
experiences, the “Altar Prayer” portion of the Sunday liturgy takes twenty or
thirty minutes. We come to the altar individually or with loved ones, holding
each other or holding ourselves together, politely kneeling, sometimes
collapsing, adhering to the words of a minister, or mumbling to oneself.
congregation sings a hymn, or a spiritual, or a chant over and over, moving on to
another song. Until. Until the praying is done, until the tears have been wiped,
until the last person has risen and moved back to her or his seat.
how I think of prayer in church.
imagine how new media can hold this feeling. How would new media convey the
sense that your community cares about you? That they understand your problems
as their problems, that they will wait with you, until. Until something changes,
until you are free.
comes from a deep belief that prayer changes things. When I heard this
expression as a child, I assumed it meant that my prayers went vertically
upward into the clouds where heaven and God are, and then God heard the prayers
and did something about what God heard.
adult, I heard an amendment to that expression. “Yes prayer changes things. Prayer
changes people. People change things.”
think this means that God has no role in changing our lives and our
circumstances, but God is not the sole agent of change as I imagined as a
child. The second expression suggests that our faith motivates us to be active
in the changes that we wish to see in the world. We are following God’s call as
we embody God’s values and principles in the world. Often, this is a call out
of our individualism into the concerns of others.
a quotation from the Aboriginal activists group in Queensland, Australia (1970),
that expresses this sentiment well:
have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. If you have come because
your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
I think I’ve understood
prayer through this liberation framework (even if the theology of the church didn’t
say it this way). We stayed, lingered, waited, sang, kneeled, and held hands
because we understood that we are linked together. None of us were free until
all of us are free.
I’ve seen creative ways to pray together like this in new
media. Recently, an associate sent an email through Facebook to a number of
close and not-as-close friends. She shared that she was having difficulties
paying an important bill as she tried to juggle school, work, and parenting
young children. As hard as it was, she was asking for help. She had set up a
page on gofund.me
allowed us to give to her, paying this bill. Many of us gave. The page not only
revealed the money donated, but had space for comments. I saw encouraging notes
about how some friends managed through similar periods in their lives. Other
people said they were glad that she asked for help when she needed it. Others
said they wouldn’t want her to struggle alone.
There was no altar, no music, no tissue passed to a
But I’m pretty sure that this was prayer as I know it.
Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California. 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.