Digital Spirituality

Digital Spirituality

Our overarching theme this month here with Kensington Unitarians is connections. And digital connections are now such a significant part of many people’s lives that we had to mention them. But it probably wasn’t wise to give me the task because when it comes to using digital technology I’m still a beginner. I posted something on Facebook for the first time ever yesterday and then texted various friends and even rang someone to ask them to ‘like it’.

But I hope some of my feeble stumblings around this subject will give us all things to talk about, think about, maybe encourage us all to share our skills a bit more and to ask for help when we need it. And to show you how slow my take up on digital technology is – here’s my favourite relaxation device – a very old taped recording of the practice of Yoga Nidra – which I’ve been using for 25 years and it’s still ok. I’ve recently been introduced to an app called Insight Timer, for use on a smart phone. It helps people to meditate with a bell timer. Imagine my delight when I discovered that it also allows me to access for free over 5,000 guided meditations – covering every circumstance imaginable – going to sleep, staying awake, calming anxiety, increasing motivation, listening to natural sounds or computer generated music to regulate your heart beat. I’ve already found at least 20 Yoga Nidra recordings on this app. Perhaps this one example gives us a glimpse of the abundance that is now available to more and more people around the world, through digital technology.

The Internet has made a difference to shopping, it’s made a difference to the world of spirituality too. It allows people to connect and engage in ways previously unknown to us. One downside is the ‘too muchness’ of it all. There is something comforting about the one relaxation tape I listened to over so many years. But it’s exciting to realise how much there is now available to access and explore. Parents and grandparents may express concerns about younger generations spending so much time on video game consoles and smart phones. In our service last week Roy Clark was reminding us all of the value of real, face to face communication. But perhaps digital communication feels just as real to some. It’s certainly a valuable way for people who might otherwise feel isolated to connect with others in similar circumstances and to support one another through sharing stories and information.

Up at Durham University there is now a Research Centre for Digital Theology. They and many others are exploring the connections between digital culture and theological conversation; because technology has an effect on faith. Think back to the effects of the printing press in the 15th century, making the Bible available to many people, no longer just the priests. Printing had a powerful part to play in the Protestant Reformation and the growth of non-conformity, in which Unitarianism had its own small part. Some scholars at the time were warning of the dangers of information overload. Respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner described printed books as ‘confusing and harmful to the mind’.
Socrates warned parents to guard their children against writing because it would ‘create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories.’

So now let me give you just 3 examples of spiritual organisations using digital media to get their messages to more people.

Spirituality and Practice: This multifaith and interspiritual website, founded by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, is devoted to resources for spiritual journeys. The website’s name reflects a basic understanding of spirituality and practice as the meeting place of all the world’s religions and spiritual paths. The website provides both resources and learning opportunities through online courses and sharing circles. Book and film reviews, quotations and particular spiritual themes are available freely to all.

Digital Nun: Sister Catherine Wybourne is a British Benedictine nun ‘with a difference’, She codes, she tweets, she vlogs – and apparently has a large following online. She’s a web and app developer with 15,000 followers on Twitter. She produces podcasts, YouTube videos and e-books. She’s based in a small Herefordshire monastery where she lives as a Catholic nun along with one other sister and a dog called Brother Duncan. Benedictines have a long history of providing hospitality and Sister Catherine now provides hospitality in a digital form. Sister Catherine explains: ‘We describe the internet as being the fourth wall of our cloister, and it’s open to everybody.’

The UUA Worship Web: This is a curated collection of worship materials and articles about Unitarian Universalist worship, all given freely by hundreds of different authors for anyone to use. This website is such a valuable resources to worship leaders all around the world.

We sometimes describe life here on earth as an interdependent web, in which everything is connected. What happens to one part of the web affects all other elements in some way. It’s a powerful image. Way back in the 60s cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan famously told us that ‘the medium is the message’. He also coined the term ‘global village’ and predicted the invention of the world wide web. Could it be that the Internet and the world wide web that passes messages around our globe, are indeed creating a whole new web to connect us all? Might it be that the internet, and all the forms of digital communication which it facilitates, heralds another era for humanity, an era of connectivity and truth telling and deep sharing, an altogether more joy filled and just way of living? I’d like to think so.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

Sermon – 21st May 2017