A few years back, I penned a blog on the spirituality of Facebook. At the time I believed that peoples’ posts represented their recognition that everyday events matter and that God is present in our day to day adventures. I affirmed that Facebook could be an opportunity to deepen our spiritual lives if we saw it as a way of making each day a holy adventure and every encounter an opportunity for blessing.
Recently, I have come to the conclusion that we need another kind of spirituality for our use of Facebook, a spirituality of prayerful mindfulness, grounded in the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” (I Thessalonians 5:17) While an attitude of prayer should permeate the whole of our lives, I see intentional prayer as essential to enable our use of Facebook to support rather than detract from our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Anyone who observes Facebook conversations knows that they have gotten meaner and meaner over the past year. People have lost friendships over differences in politics and lifestyle. Even the most innocent and innocuous comments, for example, applauding the dignity and fidelity of the Obama’s marriage or noting a positive comment by vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence can lead to contrarian statements. In the past month, I have been told to “F--- myself” by complete strangers. People who don’t know me have described me as an “idiot” despite the fact that my contrasting comment was irenic in spirit and quite possibly factual. People knowingly publish falsehoods and posts that demonize opposing political candidates. While I personally don’t involve myself in diminishing statements, character assassination, or intentional counterfactual statements (I check everything on snopes.com or FactCheck.org or PolitiFact before posting), I have felt my own anxiety increasing as I read Facebook posts on my home page. I am regularly tempted to “set people straight” or to challenge what I perceive to be their falsehoods or divisive statements. Occasionally, I make a contrasting comment. Even if I am factually correct, little good comes of it.
This has led me to ponder what counsel spiritual leaders might have for us today. I believe that we are called to “become fire,” that is, to be passionate about our love of God, neighbor, and the world. I also believe that a fiery faith can transform our lives and bring beauty to the world. Yet, this same passion can lead to polarization, insult, objectification, and diminishment of others’ if we are not careful. Accordingly, I have been pondering the counsel to “pray without ceasing” especially in my Facebook interactions. I have not always been successful at keeping my cool, but a spiritual attitude, grounded in prayerful intentionality, enables me to see the divine in people with whom I disagree or whose positions are grounded what I believe to be error (based on research, not opinion). I have even chosen to pray for the presidential candidate I oppose on grounds of ethics, character, and policy.
These days, I try to remember to do the following when I use Facebook:
- Take a few deep centering breaths when I log on as a way of opening to a Deeper Wisdom and Calm.
- Pray for wisdom and inspiration in my conduct on Facebook.
- Pray to see the holiness in others, especially those with whom I disagree.
- Take a moment to reflect on my posts before I post them, mindfully asking myself the following questions, “Are these beneficial to those who read? Are they inspired by ego or the quest for truth and reconciliation? Am I attached to being right more than sharing the truth as I understand it? Do I honor the holiness of the other?”
- I take a moment to bless those whose posts are troubling to me and ask that they experience wholeness and insight on God’s terms not my own.
- I remember the fallibility of my own position before posting.
I still on occasion feel angry, anxious, and alienated. I suspect I will still make a few comments that don’t bring out the best in others. But, my turning my Facebook over to divine wisdom enables me to step back and mindfully respond when I choose to.
Facebook is a small thing in the order of the universe. Yet, social media reflects our spiritual values and commitments. If we are going to spend a few minutes or a few hours on social media daily, then it is essential for us to use Facebook and other forms to bring wholeness and not alienation to the world. We can disagree, but we need to do so with a spirit of friendship and reconciliation, guided by the “better angels” (Abraham Lincoln). Then, our use of Facebook will be sacramental and contribute to our spiritual growth and the spiritual well-being of others.
Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, Centerville, Massachusetts (http://southcongregationalchurch-centerville.org) and professor in the areas of theology, spirituality, and ministry at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he is the author of forty books, including The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality in the Postmodern World and Anamchara Book’s Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians.