Digital Holy Lent
Lent is an ancient season of reflection, introspection, and repentance. Even before unimaginable levels of connectivity and busyness invaded our lives, people of faith sought ways to keep a holy Lent by stepping back from full engagement in their day-to-day activities. Prayer, fasting, self-denial, almsgiving offer a subtext to daily life, one that encourages an inward and more faith-driven focused.
So how should one keep a holy Lent in 2018? For many folks, the idea of a digital sabbath has appeal. A time to put away the distraction of screens, and their constant interruption. Certainly there are plenty of articles both defining the drain of digital addiction (see Common Sense Media and Screenagers) as well as offering suggestions of how to “successfully” engage in a digital sabbath. But how does one gauge the success of a sabbath? Doesn’t that language alone contribute to a culture in which accomplishment and quantifiable goals are paramount? The very mindset we seek to put aside in Lent!
I love the article from Rebecca Rosen in The Atlantic. Rosen argues that rather than a digital sabbath, we need to be more intentional in how we spend our time and the ways in which our understanding of time has changed. It is every bit as true today, if not more so, than when she wrote it in 2012.
“…if we allow ourselves to blame the technology for distracting us from our children or connecting with our communities, then the solution is simply to put away the technology. We absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure, technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of relationships we want with the people around us. We need to realize that at the core of our desire for a Sabbath isn't a need to escape the blinking screens of our electronic world, but the ways that work and other obligations have intruded upon our lives and our relationships.”
So. As someone who considers the ways in which digital technology enhances, extends and enriches both relationships and spiritual practice, I have a few thoughts.
There are many organizations that use the digital space to facilitate a Lenten focus, be it on reading a particular book or being part of a particular initiative. It’s a powerful experience to simultaneously engage in the same act as other Christians.
Here are a few that I am particularly looking forward to this Lent:
- The Good Book Club is an initiative by Forward Movement inviting all Episcopalians to join in reading the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts during Lent-Easter 2018. The Resources page includes curricular materials and study guides; video, podcast and blog links; and logos and bulletin inserts. Whether you participate as an individual, a small group, or are facilitating a large initiative at your church, there are many resources to make this a meaningful experience.
- Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John is a 6-week long, daily initiative by the monks of the Society of St. John the Evangelist and The Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. Daily emails include video reflections (with full transcript, for those of you who like to read rather than watch). Also available for download are a beautiful prayer journal, facilitation guidance for small groups and more from the Center for the Ministry of Teaching, and videos from the monks of SSJE.
- Lent Madness is another perennial favorite, pitting historical and contemporary saints in a single-elimination style bracket. Daily match-ups include brief biographies of these saintly souls, from which participants are asked to choose who should advance. As in any tournament bracket, there can be only one final winner, but the process of getting there is enlightening and educational. It’s a way to learn about our faithful fathers and mother in a fun, topical way. To play along, follow Lent Madness on Facebook and vote for your favorite saint daily.
- 40Acts is a U.K. initiative that daily provides prompts inviting participants to engage in generosity challenges, one for each day of Lent (minus Sundays). Each daily email includes a “Green” challenge, something that can be done in five minutes or less; a “Yellow” challenge representing a slightly greater commitment of time and money; and a “Red” challenge which invites an extravagant opportunity for generosity.
On a slightly more intimate scale, two friends have created crowd-sourced Lenten digital devotions:
- Kyle Oliver, curator Creative Commons Prayer, assembled a Lenten music playlist "Strangers tryin' to feel less strange" as a follow-up to his popular Epiphany playlist. (I'm thankful that Leon Bridges' "River" is included)
- Regina Heater, is curating "Kyrie Project - a collaborative, multi-faith exploration of mercy across contexts and experiences."
Each of these initiatives invites participants to both go deeper in their personal faith, but to do so in the company of others. Yet we shouldn’t forget that digital technology, for all of it’s miraculous ability to connect us, can also be used in private, personal ways; and can be used to extend faith without having to engage on social media.
Last year I initiated a personal practice, “Daily Life and Work,” based on a line in Form IV of the Prayers of the People in the Book of Common Prayer. As I moved through my daily life - commuting, shopping, driving – I used my phone to capture random images populated with people unknown to me: strangers waiting on the platform for the T; grocery store check-out clerks; strangers shopping at Ikea. After taking each photo, I opened a Note on my phone and wrote a prayer/poem for people that I saw. I tried not to project a story on them (I’m perhaps prone to making up stories!) but rather pray for them in the moment, as they were, in their daily life and work. While the daily practice was enriching, what was a profound realization for me was that I can now go back to those blurred photos and snippets of prayers and recall the people who I prayed for, in ways I never would be able to do if I’d not taken the time to notice them.
Whether technology helps or hinders your efforts, may you all have a blessed and holy Lent.
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
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