Sunday, June 22, 2014

Praying My Facebook News Feed

Do you freely admit that you spend time on social media compulsively? After you’ve checked your Facebook notifications, and after you’ve resisted the bait (or not) in a heated political debate, do you begin looking down your news feed at every single item you haven’t seen before?

I have noticed that I have this problem. It’s as if something will go wrong in the universe if I don’t keep up with absolutely everything that all my friends are doing today. On the one hand, this means that I know a lot of what people are going through. But that urge to know everything means that I’m paying a lot less attention to each thing. I may notice that your dog is dying, but if I have never known you all that well, I probably won’t let that fact touch me too deeply. If your child got into that great university, I may silently rejoice for a split second, but if you’re not one of my best friends, I’ll probably just “Like” it and move on. That’s not a very personal connection.

So today I tried something new. I said, “I will pray intentionally regarding the first ten items on my news feed this morning. And then I will stop and go do something else.” Here is what I found.

1) One of my classmates was ordained to the priesthood and then immediately married another of my classmates. There are photos of a number of our mutual classmates at the wedding—Instagrammed black-and-white photos of people I love all having a wonderful time together. I am jealous and wish I could be there. Prayer: O God, please bless and keep them all the days of their lives, in their ministry in the church, and in their love for one another. May this weekend be a time of happy memories for all these dear friends, always. Amen.

2) A friend from back home spent the day at another occasion I wish I could have attended: a day-long
meeting on youth ministry in my home diocese. There I am, getting jealous again! Prayer: O God, bless these friends in their work. But please also take my jealousy and turn it into joy at the ways we welcome youth in the church and help them “to grow into the full stature of Christ.” Amen.

3) An old friend I will see soon changed her profile picture. She looks happy, and 39 people “Like” it. Prayer: So do I. May she be truly happy, and thank you for the opportunity to see her and other old friends again soon. Amen.

4) A friend wrote “feeling awesome” at her ability to transpose into another key, and then to play another tune without even looking at her hands. I’m not sure what instrument she has taken up today, but I do know she plays the bagpipes. Prayer: I, too, love the thrill of having enough music theory in my head to play a tune without a sheet of music and without any rehearsal. It’s a blessed feeling, and God bless those who share it! Amen.

5) A shared meme: “If you walk a mile in my shoes, you’ll end up at the bar.” Prayer: Um … what should I pray for here? Ah, yes. Thank you, God, for the gift of humor in its many varieties. Amen.

6) A review of two new books. I must admit that sometimes I breeze through long articles without much thought. At my absolute worst, I glance at who “Likes” it and ask myself whether the article upholds my current beliefs, and then I may even “Like” it without reading it. I will not do this today. I will read the whole thing, and then say prayer #6. Here goes … wow! This is a very heady article, the likes of which I haven’t read since I graduated from seminary a month ago. But its aim is to move beyond the head and to engage the heart. My favorite quote: “Liberalism’s admirable recognition of the unique value of each individual has had the effect of creating a society composed of gilded birds trapped in iron cages.” But the article is extremely long and difficult. I finish it, but whew! I hope the next four prayers take a little less time: Prayer: May I never lose the desire, may I never squander the time, to engage my intellect deeply and thoroughly. Amen.

7) Another person went to that same youth ministry meeting. But she writes, “Home sick from …” Does that mean she went home sick? Or does that mean that she feels “homesick” at having to leave an event that feels so much like “home”? I’m guessing it’s the former, as do those who comment to wish her well. Prayer: May she feel better soon. But another prayer in light of my potential misunderstanding: May the work in which I engage make me truly “homesick” for the Kingdom! Amen.

8) More of those wonderful wedding photos, from another classmate. Dang, I wish I could have been there: Another prayer for the happy couple, and for all my friends who attended. Amen.

9) A reflection from a classmate on a road trip with a friend. Prayer: Bless their friendship, which I saw blossom in seminary. May my upcoming road trip with my family also be blessed. Amen.

10) Family photos from a summer solstice party in a park, with a ceremony of renewal of wedding vows for a couple they know. I don’t know most of the people involved. Prayer: O God, bless this couple in their marriage, whoever they are. Prosper the work of our hands, and consecrate our leisure time as well. Amen.

And so I stop. I close the window, say a brief closing prayer, and move on with my day. I don't even comment on these ten items, at least not this time. There is a lot I have missed, but it is not mine to know today. All our lives are held in God’s hands, and prayer connects us one to another through God. Amen.

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