Drawing life-giving water from the well of the Internet
Global Sisters Report has enjoyed a partnership with A Nun’s Life Ministry since our site went live in April 2014. Srs. Maxine Kollasch and Julie Vieira share audio clips every week from their popular podcasts and now take turns writing a monthly column. Drawing on their experiences of online presence and using a lens of Scripture, they each will explore how social media offers new ways of witnessing Gospel values.
Like many people, I spend a lot of time on the Internet. Whether for my ministry at A Nun's Life or in my personal time, the Internet is a regular part of my life. I respond to emails, interact on social media, search for information, attend webinars, watch livestreaming events, listen to podcasts, and engage in other activities that connect me with people, information, and ideas. In an effort to tend to these connections, I've developed a system for the more predictable activities of my day: first thing in the morning, check social media; next, check email; and so on.
In the midst of doing these ordinary activities, I find that there's always room for the Holy Spirit to break in with an invitation to encounter God anew!
The other day I was online, looking at the readings for the Sundays of Lent in the New American Bible. One of the readings is a favorite of mine, the story of the woman at Jacob's well (John 4:5-42). It's a story I've read and heard proclaimed many times. As I read the story online, however, I began to understand the Samaritan woman in a new way, seeing a connection between her experience at the well and mine on the Internet. Even though her life and mine are separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles, I found a new kinship with the woman at the well.
The well and the Internet
As part of her daily routine, it's likely that the Samaritan woman went to the well, much like I go to the Internet. The well and the Internet are not simply destinations, but opportunities for encounter. For women in the time of Jesus, going to the well for water to drink and to cook with was a routine activity. Water being a precious resource, a well was typically shared by everyone in the surrounding city or town. The well was both a material and a social resource — a place to get water, but also to talk with others. Maybe first-century women, as they waited in line at the well, exchanged DIY (do it yourself) information, cooking pro-tips, family updates, and spiritual encouragement in the ups and downs of ordinary life.
In the 21st century, the Internet is a precious resource that gives us access to a vast range of information and people. Google, Ask, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines make it possible to conduct an astounding breadth of research within seconds. Social networks enable us to connect with things that interest us and with people. I can go to Pinterest to find that next amazing photo to frame for the convent living room. Or I can check out breaking news on Twitter or enjoy interaction with the online community as we live-tweet during an episode of "Call the Midwife."
Like the well, the Internet is a communal resource. It is because of the online community that the Internet is so valuable. It's not only the content that people post there — the articles, blogs, podcasts, forums, chats, and videos. It's also that people are talking with each other about the content and much more. This is the necessary atmosphere in order to live into Pope Francis' call to see the Internet as offering "immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity" and being "something truly good, a gift from God."
Talking to strangers
In the Gospel story, when the Samaritan woman goes to the well, the place is deserted, except for a stranger. It's likely that the woman knows it is an off-time at the well. Maybe she had planned to go at a time when few others would be there, or maybe she had run out of water unexpectedly and needed to make the trip. In any event, she has her water jar and is about her task when the stranger, a man, asks her for a drink of water. She might have simply complied, as would be expected of a women in that time and circumstance. But instead, she engages with the stranger, remarking on a difference that separates them — he is Jewish, she is a Samaritan. A conversation ensues, one that is so powerful and personally transformative that she goes to town to tell others about her encounter, leaving her water jar behind.
The Internet is similarly a place where we encounter "strangers," people who are outside of our usual social circles. We have conversations with people who share images of God that are very different from our own and beliefs and practices that are unfamiliar to us and at the same time enrich our faith life. When I pray with the online community at our Monday "Praying with the Sisters" podcast, I love seeing how each person responds to the readings in the chat room. Some respond with the words we hear at liturgy, "Thanks be to God." Others respond in the language of their own country, "Lovad vare du Kristus," or in Internet language, "TB2G." We also get quite a few Amens and Blessed Be's! It is truly awe-inspiring to experience with the online community each person's distinctive way of addressing our God.
These experiences of drawing water from the well of the Internet are truly life-giving for me, whether I expect them or not as I go about my daily routine. As we go about this day, let us each remember the Samaritan woman and her openness to allow God to break into her routine activities. It may not be an epic event. It may be an unexpected Facebook message that pops up from a friend who's online at the same time and just wants to say hello. Or it may be a Snapchat story that calls us to act on behalf of social justice and human dignity. Let us remember that in the midst of our routine activities, transformation awaits.
[Maxine Kollasch is a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan, and co-founder of A Nun’s Life Ministry, which was founded on the Internet in 2006 and is present at aNunsLife.org and in many social media.]