It’s fair to say that modern society is steadily bombarded with noise. Outlets such as television, computers, smart phones, e-mail, video games and social media sites are overwhelmingly present in our day-to-day lives. Finding a healthy balance when maintaining our daily lives, religious lives, and online personas can prove difficult.
Prayer in the Digital Age directly and honestly addresses our situation—media and sensory overload—and offers solutions to cut down on the surge of clutter in our lives. If we are constantly attempting to connect with others in the online world, there is simply no time to connect with God. He has to take a backseat. Granted, Matt Swaim doesn’t portray that all media is harmful or an obstacle to prayer. But we have to train ourselves to use it wisely and with contemplation, something that both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have urged us to do in recent years.
Swaim’s book reminded me of an article I recently read about Sister Teresita, a 103 year old nun who left her convent for the first time in 84 years so she could meet the Pope. The convent’s mother superior told the press, “She thinks she will make the trip with her eyes closed, so that nothing will distract her.” Sr. Teresita understands that our society’s endless distractions add little value to our lives, and that activity does not equal accomplishment. I can spend ten minutes checking my e-mail and see what’s being said on Facebook or Twitter, but wow, I have accomplished nothing. I could have put those ten minutes to better use.
“Elijah the prophet learned firsthand that God was not in the thunder or the fire, but rather a whisper. In our contemporary milieu, forms of thunder and fire surround us at every turn, whether we’re eating every meal with a television blaring in the background, or checking and rechecking social networking sites every fifteen minutes to see what a high school classmate whom we never talk to is having for dinner.”
With so much noise around us, actively listening to what God is telling us becomes hard to do. Thankfully, Swaim offers us a few ideas on how to start listening, as well as ways to use digital media constructively. These ideas include:
- Set alarms on our phones and e-mail clients to remind us to pray throughout the day. Even if it’s just for a few seconds, we should break from our routine to reflect and give thanks.
- Transform our daily lives and associate specific activities with prayer, so that prayer becomes just as automated an activity as closing your garage door or cooking dinner.
- Appreciate the value of true communities and face-to-face relationships. Swaim explains, “online social networking leads us to believe we are a part of a communal family, but it lets us off the hook when it comes to the demands and sacrifices that lead to actual community building.”
- At the end of the day, contemplate how we have acted online. Were our actions consistent with our goal of serving God? Did we portray a true portrait of ourselves, or “parade our ideas of who we want others to see when they think of us?” Did we use our time wisely?
I remember being a child and sitting down with my family during our weekly Advent prayer service. My parents would literally take the phone off the hook, and we all had a sense of what was important—what deserved our full attention. For anyone who wants that sense of priority back in their lives, Prayer in the Digital Age will give you the nudge (or really, a solid push) in the right direction.