Thursday, January 12, 2017

The power of prayer ala Facebook

     Right now my family is experiencing some medical trauma. It's taxing for everyone, and naturally I want help, but my family lives across the country, so there's really  not much I can do. The most helpful action for me at this point is to actively leave them alone and wait to be contacted. It's so frustrating.
     My mom contacted family members and her community to ask for prayers. She wants me to do the same, but I don't think I am going to. I don't understand that kind of prayer. I should probably have a better handle on it since  I have grown up around it,but asking people to pray for strangers has always seemed a little absurd to me. What is that supposed to accomplish?
     I can understand prayer as meditation. I can see the value of regularly reflecting on issues you want on the forefront of your mind. Working towards peace, remembering sacrifices of others, aspiring for virtue: I can see that. Prayer can be a tool for establishing focus and setting priorities.  That all make sense, but why ask for prayers from others?  For strangers? What do the people in my cousin's synagogue care about some baby on the other side of the country? I'm sure they are politely sympathetic and all, but I'm fairly certain that no magic is going to occur if you reach a certain number of prayers. When Warren was sick, his preschool teachers included him in the church's list of intentions. I guess that was nice. Maybe it helped them feel like they were doing something.
     I read an article wherein the author railed against people who offered to pray for his family while his son was sick. The author said that prayer was a way for outsiders to make themselves feel better without taking any action. I can see what he's saying, but that's not really a fair assessment. When I say I'm praying for someone, I don't mean "appealing to that same supernatural entity to help".  I mean I think about them throughout the day. I hold their issue in my heart with concern, and reflect on whatever situation it is I am praying about. I guess prayer may not help directly in something tangible, but reflection moves people to take action as he suggests: "Donate to families in need or medical research. Contact your representatives when a vote comes up that might inhibit scientific advancement. Call a friend or family member who’s in crisis and be a compassionate ear. "
     Apparently all my praying about my family is moving me to participate in social media, because I have been praying, and that's really what I want to do. I know it sounds ridiculous. I'm not suggesting that praying to our high priest Mark Zuckerberg is going to affect any change for the people I'm close to, but it will change the ads in my feed, and that's a start.
No, seriously, I do think that there is some spiritual value in participating in Facebook. It sounds bizarre, but stay with me on this.
     Facebook feeds into a Catholic mentality; think about it. Catholics do not believe you can really experience the fullness of God except through other people. Something experienced alone might be great, but it's magnified when you share it with someone else. This is an eternal truth.
Why else would people be so fixated on it? People like to experience things with others. Discussing and sharing make things more real. It can make the emotion of an event last longer or become clearer. It helps people process.
     Okay, so maybe people only post to make themselves feel good. Is that really so bad? I do feel better when I blog, or tweet, or post.  I want to craft the wording, and put up pictures, and share my experiences with others. Yes, others: as in the people from high school that I am friends with online despite not ever actually talking to them during high school. I do want those people to know what my day was like. I don't think that's selfish, or narcissistic. I think people just like to share, and like to read what others have shared.  When I see posts about other people's struggles, even if I don't know them that well, it affects me. It makes me appreciate where I am at, or feel in solidarity with them sometimes. It is a little strange that I am far more involved in some people's lives through Facebook than when I ever was when saw them in person on a day to day basis, but that's fine. A community is still a community even if it's online. A Facebook community links me to people and creates a more rounded picture of the world, somehow.  I can't decide if I am a completely ridiculous optimist or tragically lonely .

      I imagine group prayer could function very much like a Facebook post; especially in a small community. The petitions at Mass give the community an update on what other members are facing. A list of community intentions would fine tune the trajectory of the congregation. It still doesn't quite make sense, but I guess I can see it.
     Anyway, I'm sure I'll understand it eventually. If I can make a Church of Facebook (TM), I can probably find spiritual fulfillment in just about anything.

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