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 take turns writing a monthly column. Drawing on their experiences of online presence and using a lens of Scripture, they explore how social media offers new ways of witnessing Gospel values.
"If people have to give up meat on Fridays in Lent, do vegetarians have to give up veggies?" "Do I have to give up things for Lent that I really love, like funny cat videos on YouTube?"
We receive many questions like these at A Nun's Life Ministry as Lent approaches. People are eager to learn new ways to deepen their spirituality through the age-old practices of fasting as well as prayer and almsgiving, the three pillars of Lent.
From the earliest days of the church, people have engaged these Lenten practices in ways suited to the circumstances of their lives. But our forebears in the faith, such as Anthony, Augustine, Scholastica, Francis, and Teresa, didn't have the internet, computers, mobile phones, and social media as part of their everyday lives as many of us in the 21st century do.
How can we, in the internet age, prepare ourselves for a meaningful Lent? The first step could involve another time-honored Lenten practice: taking a spiritual inventory to guide our fasting, prayer and almsgiving — in this case, a spiritual inventory of our online presence.
Here are four questions we've used at A Nun's Life Ministry to help guide the process.
1. Where do I spend my energy online?
Chances are you'll be surprised at all the ways you're active in the online environment. That's certainly the case for us at A Nun's Life, even though being online is an integral part of our ministry!
In response to the question, write down all the ways you are active online to get a full sense of the scope of activities that are involved. A few examples of things that could be included: texting; emailing; using the computer for work or study; visiting websites; connecting with friends on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat; and watching TV or movies online.
Next to each activity on the list, write the approximate amount of time that you spend on the activity every day or every week.
2. How can I reduce digital clutter in my life?
You may find on the list of activities a number of things you no longer want or need or that you'd like to use in more moderation. Digital clutter, just like a messy room or steady flow of distractions, can feel unmanageable and stressful. Making conscious choices about online activities can help decrease anxiety and open up time and energy for activities that could be more life-giving.
It is sometimes surprising that seemingly unimportant activities may actually take us in life-giving directions. For example, in the midst of a highly stressful day, it may be better for our spirits to laugh at a few cat videos than to abstain altogether from online videos. Or instead of simply continuing to ignore the hundreds of photos stashed away in our phones, we may decide to take a prayerful approach to dealing with them. As part of our 40 days of Lenten prayer, we may choose each day to view some of the photos with the goal of keeping only those with special meaning for us and letting go of the rest.
3. How can I be my best self for me and for others online?
In further reviewing the list of online activities, there is an invitation to consider the overall quality of our online presence. We are our best selves when we truly reflect our identity as being created in the image of God. We have a road map for how to do this in the person and life of Jesus. We also have things such as the beatitudes, the lives of the saints, and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which call us to embrace that which is life-giving and to extend ourselves to help others in need.
4. How might we further express our Christian identity in our online activities during Lent?
As we assess our online activity, it may be that we use the internet more to learn about the needs of the world so as to bring them into our daily prayer. Or we might have very simple meals on Fridays in Lent to save money that we can give to crowdfunding projects that seek to provide basic health care to people who otherwise lack access to it. The number of ways we can further express our Christian identity in our online presence during Lent are as vast as the internet.
Whether we decide (or not) to give up Facebook, send fewer snaps, or watch a cat video or two, may this Lent be a time of exploring God's activity in our lives, both in and out of the newsfeed!
[Sr. 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 outlets.]