By Julie Vieira, guest blogger
This is the eighth in a twelve-part series on Community formation and social media.
Many of us have experienced powerful moments of healing within our local faith communities. But what about online communities? Can healing take place when we are not face to face? Can we be healed through the laying on of hands—on a keyboard?
There are many kinds of healing that affect us in body, mind, and spirit. At the root of the word healing is making whole. Our journey to wholeness may take many forms, large and small. Sometimes we seek wholeness in the midst of a significant upheaval that leaves us feeling shattered and in a state of profound dis-ease. And sometimes it is the ordinary ebb and flow of daily life that leaves us with a feeling of scatteredness and unrest.
But how can a bunch of data packets flying through cyberspace resemble anything of healing that we have come to know in our faith traditions? How can a fleeting text message, a Pinterest image, or a message of 140 characters or fewer ever be capacious enough to make us feel whole?
Enter a Carmelite nun of the late nineteenth century: Thérèse of Lisieux, a saint and Doctor of the Church in the Catholic tradition. Though pre-dating the Internet, Thérèse well understood the potential for using small, seemingly insignificant ways to reach out to others and be a source of healing. This was part of what is called the “Little Way” of Saint Thérèse. In her autobiography, Thérèse wrote:
But how shall I show my love, since love proves itself by deeds? Well! … The only way I have of proving my love is to strew flowers before Thee—that is to say, I will let no tiny sacrifice pass, no look, no word. I wish to profit by the smallest actions, and to do them for Love. I wish to suffer for Love's sake, and for Love's sake even to rejoice: thus shall I strew flowers. Not one shall I find without scattering its petals before Thee ... and I will sing ... I will sing always, even if my roses must be gathered from amidst thorns….” (Story of a Soul / l'Histoire d'une Ame, Chapter 11)
In Thérèse’s little way, we are invited to see each “smallest action”—a comment or “like” on Facebook or an exchange of emoticons in a chat room—as holding the potential for making whole.
When the A Nun’s Life online community gathers for prayer every Monday, I am profoundly aware of how something as “small” as a chat room can have the potential for making whole. During live broadcasts, we use chat for people to share prayer requests, thanksgivings, and reflections on the scripture readings of the day. We also spend time in the chat room after the podcast to socialize with one another. Sometimes it is the prayer time itself that is balm for the weary soul. Sometimes it is in chatting with one another after prayer that a needed LOL or word of encouragement or surprising insight gives us just enough to make us feel more fully ourselves.
And yes, there are the thorns that we will inevitably encounter. We will be surly sometimes online, we will misunderstand one another’s emoticons, we will post less-than-helpful comments. But there is no thorn that is unredeemed, no thorn that cannot at one and the same time be an occasion for whole-making. It is not the lack of thorns that makes for wholeness after all, but how we are able to see the beauty of the whole rose—thorns and all!
As you consider your own participation in social media—as an individual or as a member of a community—think about one or two examples from your own use of social media where there was an experience of healing, of whole-making. What allowed for that experience to happen? Was it having a regular presence on social media, listening well through social media, making thoughtful comments, etc.? How can you build on this for the future?
Sister Julie Vieira, IHM, is a Catholic sister and co-founder of the popular website aNunsLife.org, an online ministry and pastoral presence that utilizes Internet technology and social media to connect people with Catholic sisters and nuns and the rich tradition of religious life. She also works with religious communities and other organizations in the area of utilizing social media to foster a culture of vocation.
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.