By Bruce Epperly
While waiting on an unusually slow Internet connection this morning, I felt myself becoming impatient. A few more seconds passed and predictably, I became even more impatient. I'm not good at waiting, especially in this digital age of "everything now." But then I had an insight -- I remembered to breathe. And with this breath, I chose to use those moments of waiting as an opportunity to pause and notice the beauty of the emerging day, and awaken to the holiness of the moment.
I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and asked God to give me peace and inspiration in responding to my Facebook messages and in writing my own posts. By the time I opened my eyes, I was connected -- not only to the Internet, but more importantly, to the presence of God. I felt a new sense of well-being and anticipation for whatever messages I would receive from my Facebook friends. Twenty seconds of intentional waiting had transformed my day!
The apostle Paul, a 1st-century Jewish-Christian spiritual leader, once counseled, "pray without ceasing," and that's good advice for social networkers. The use of social media can be a source of anxiety and impatience and add to the busyness of the day; it can also deepen our spiritual lives. It has mine, and I want to share a vision and some spiritual practices for making Facebook and other social media altars of the spirit, holy places and times, through which we can discover God in all things and all things in God.
First, let me share some theology. Theology is simply how we understand our lives in light of God's presence in our lives and the universe. To me, theology is not about winning an argument or being right, but living by affirmations that shape our way of looking at the world and our day-to-day behavior. You are a theologian whenever you pause long enough to reflect on the meaning of your life, especially its joys, sorrows, and challenges.
I believe that a Facebook theology is based on the following affirmations:
- We are all connected with one another in an intricate web of relationships.
- Each moment of our lives matters and is holy, whether I am blogging, commenting on what I ate for breakfast, sharing wisdom, or responding to a friend's status report.
- We can be transformed personally and socially by our relationships and our awareness of the holiness of life.
As a Christian, I believe that God is inspiring us in all of our activities, including our social networking. God can be experienced in our interactions and daily comments, and in the new insights we receive. We can awaken to holiness in discovering a new friend or finding old friends on Facebook and other social media. In my own social media adventures, I have rediscovered nearly thirty friends from the James Lick High School (San Jose, California) Class of 1970 on Facebook, and what has been "virtual" will become "incarnational" as we celebrate our fortieth reunion this fall. It might surprise my high school friends to discover that I often pray for them as I read their posts. Now, I'm not that pious, but I care. In my prayers, I have no agenda, no sense of what is right for them, only a hope that they will experience the fullness of life and love.
I believe that Facebook can be an altar on the Internet and a place of spiritual awakening. Holiness is here in this moment and in this post, and we can awaken to the holiness of social media by the following spiritual practices:
- Praying your status updates. The moments of your life matter and shape the lives of others, despite the brevity of your updates. They are the quotidian, or everyday, revelations of God in your life. Praying your posts enables Facebook to become holy ground and contribute to your spiritual well-being and the well-being of others.
- Praying others' status updates. Noticing your interconnectedness with them and the holiness of their lives. Looking for the Word moving through their words.
- Praying your pauses on line or any impatience you may experience as you log on or deal with Internet inconveniences. Every moment reveals God and can be an opportunity for spiritual growth.
- Breathing in a sense of God's spirit in between status reports and comments.
- Giving thanks for your life and the lives of your Facebook friends. As the German mystic Eckhardt says, "If the only prayer you can say in your entire life is thank you, that will be enough."