Connecting in prayer using smartphones

(Jay Wennington, via Unsplash.com and used under Creative Commons zero)

At the risk of coming across as a stereotypical Millennial, I have a confession to make: I am all about that app life. Now, not all apps are created equal. Some (like the notorious Kim Kardashian game, which I played briefly this weekend for the first time in MONTHS) are just time sucks. Other apps are genuinely useful, and those are really my favorites. In fact, whenever I get a new device, the first thing I do is download all the apps I know will make my life better/easier.

Yes, I’ve still got the Kim K game, but I’ve also got an app that reminds me to drink water, an app that lets me pay all of my bills from my phone and even an app on my work web browser that changes the brightness of the monitor based on the sun – that way I don’t strain my eyes staring at a screen that’s too bright. (Screen fatigue. The struggle is real.)

So, it was a bit out of character that when the developers of the app Instapray sent me some promotional materials at work last week, I was immediately skeptical and pretty sure I would never ever download it. Never.

According to the leaflet I received, Instapray helps you “pray with your friends and family on your smartphone,” which seems a little . . . unnecessary? I tried to convince (read: trick) National Catholic Reporter Bertelsen intern Mick Forgey to take one of the bumper stickers that I also got, and when I explained the concept of the app to him, his incredulity was spot-on: “I need an app for that?!?!?”

Exactly.

But over the weekend, I started to think outside of my little box of privilege. I live eight hours away from my immediate family, but I talk to them every single day. I’m aware of their prayer requests, and I’m able to pray for them regularly. Likewise, my friends are very good about reaching out for prayer when they need it – no matter where they are in the world. However, not everyone has open lines of communication like that.

Take, for instance, the Dominicans sisters fleeing ISIS and helping refugees in Iraq. This little detail didn’t make the final version of article, but the Iraqi sisters use a messaging app called Viber to text the Dominican sisters in the U.S. – even when they were on the run. And it was through these text messages that the sisters in the U.S. were able to keep tabs on a situation thousands of miles away. They would probably find quite a bit of benefit in an app like Instapray.

Or, consider the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, relayed last week in Rome by Sister of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, Scholastique Empela Ankeonele. I don’t know that anyone in the Congo is using mobile apps to communicate, but I can imagine such apps would be useful. And I can imagine that for those who are so spiritually inclined, prayer through similar means would be comforting.

The fact of the matter is, mobile Internet usage is on the rise, even in developing nations. And that means communication apps are poised to change what we know and how we know it in a big way. It’s not that messaging apps can’t be blocked by governments – they can be and they have been – but it’s usually only after they’ve already created a stir, whereas giant social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are often blocked preemptively.

I mention all this to say that I think there’s a place in the world for Instapray – not that my opinion is the be all and end all on the matter. But I think I owe someone (Instapray? The universe? Mick?) an apology for my initial scoffing. I’m not going to download the app, but it’s an admittedly nice idea, and it seems likely that many people would actually cherish the ability to use an app like this for spiritual companionship.

Just not me.

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is staff reporter for Global Sisters Report, based in Kansas City, Mo. Follow her on Twitter @Dawn_Cherie.]

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