Praying through the Storm
A few weeks back, I was working, and by “working” I mean I was scrolling through my Facebook feed.
I scrolled right past a daily prayer graphic. You know the one – a scenic photo over which a fancy-font scripture verse is superimposed.
Confession: I never pause to look at those posts – which is somewhat odd given my overall enthusiasm for digital ministry. But the fact is, those graphics are about as likely to nurture me spiritually as cheesy inspirational posters are to inspire me to do great things at work instead of scrolling through Facebook.
Don’t get me wrong – on social media there are written prayers coupled with images that I include as part of my personal spiritual practice.
I read the original prayers of my friend Regina Heater, which can be found on Instagram by searching the hashtag #PrayersForDaysThatEndInY.
I also read the poetic prayers of my friend Dirk DeVries, which are coupled with his photographs, on his blog The 60 Second Sabbath.
The appeal of these prayers for me is that I’m a word geek. I love reading beautiful expressions. Also, each prayer is new. The scripture graphics, on the other hand, offer me no context, no additional insight, no depth, and no way to unpack verses I’ve read countless times. So I keeping scrolling.
But I had to wonder – is there a way to really pray in the digital space?
And is it a way to pray that goes beyond the cerebral act of reading new prayers, a way to pray that engages more heart than head? Indeed, often the repetition of familiar prayers learned by rote, is what anchors many peoples’ prayer lives. So if reading a beloved collect or scripture verse on a graphic image doesn’t allow the reader to go deep enough, is there another way?
Again, while scrolling through Facebook, I swiped over a Facebook live video, but paused just barely long enough to hear, “Pray with me.” There was something in the in the invitation that I couldn’t quite refuse, and so I paused. The priest asked for prayer requests and then began familiar words. The background music was a bit too bouncy, the image quality uncertain, but I did pause.
Although that brief snippet didn’t quite induce a transcendent prayer experience, it definitely raised the possibility that deep and meaningful prayer could be shared via video, both live and asynchronously. I wondered if anyone else might be interested in exploring this with me, committing to saying Compline together every night, for example.
Powerful Prayer in Response to a Powerful Storm
Before I could put this plan in motion, however, answers to my questions regarding the possibility of meaningful digital prayer arrived along with the torrential rains of Hurricane Harvey. Another friend, Alan Bentrup, a priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cypress, Texas, on the outskirts of Houston, posted a Facebook Live video of a Compline service he recorded from his home when flood waters made travel to the church impossible. For the past week, he and priest Beth Fain, also of St. Mary’s, offered services daily, including Eucharist, inviting participants to partake together in bread and wine. In addition to assisting the community by serving as a shelter, collecting and sorting donations, and disseminating information about relief initiatives, St. Mary's offered the healing power of communal prayer to anyone who could access the internet but was trapped by floodwaters.
It was clear from the comments on each live worship service, that people were nurtured, sustained, and reassured. Some people watched live, some people later accessed the saved video from the church's website or Facebook page. Those, like myself, who were far from Houston but praying for the safety and well-being of people in the path of the storm, were able to experience the strength of shared prayer and a more personal connection with those for whom we prayed. It was profound and powerful.
In the days ahead, I look forward to talking with Alan to learn his perspective on the impact of this shared digital prayer space on parishioners, the community, and others far from the storm. Right now, however, he and the people of St. Mary's are preparing for the Herculean task of rebuilding lives and communities. So, whether you pray as your scroll through Facebook or in another space, please continue to remember everyone impacted by the storm in your prayers.
Please Be Generous
Also, please consider making a donation to disaster relief efforts. This Episcopal Relief and Development post spells out the most effective ways to meet the needs of people in impacted communities as they face the lengthy process of recovery. Please be generous in your prayers and your financial support.
- Lisa Brown
Photo: Ssg. Tim Pruitt, Episcopal Relief & Development
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.