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. 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.
As we enter deeper into Advent, the sense of anticipation builds as we await Emmanuel, God-with-us. All around us are signs that the time is drawing near. Each day brings a flood of new things online — tweets from the Advent readings, YouTube videos for DIY nativity sets, Pinterest recipes for Advent cookies, Instagram Star-in-the-East images, Snaps from school Christmas musicals, and more.
Much, much more. Some of it we welcome. Some of it we scroll on by. But for many of us, the Internet and social media are part of our everyday life at work, school, and home. They are something we value and depend on for the most part. How might we approach our social networks in ways that nurture our spirituality during Advent and into Christmas? What filters could we use in order to see our Internet activity in a new light, one that nourishes our spirit and faith this season?
Although the ancient prophets predate Twitter by several millennia, their words in the Advent readings offer wisdom for today. In one of the Sunday Advent readings, Zephaniah assures us that indeed "your God is in your midst" (Zephaniah 3:17). This reminds us that when we're online, God is in our midst there too, with and among the online community.
This, of course, is not a startling realization. We know that God is always present to us no matter where we are and even if we're not always present to God. But to specifically look for God while scrolling through our Facebook or Twitter feed can make a big difference in the online experience. This idea was recently expressed in a compelling way by a member of the online community, Debin, who was in the chat room during our livestreaming prayer podcast. As people in the chat room reflected on the Advent Scripture readings of the day, Debin wrote, "Imagine the world if we treated all people and relationships as Divine."
The words rang true for all of us there! For example, I know that when I approach YouTube as a place of encounter with God, it brings out the best in me. The clever Santa Claws cat video that someone has posted may not make me ROTFL, but when I think of this experience as an encounter with God, I am more conscious of the goodness of creation and the joy that animals and humor can bring.
From photos of homemade wreaths, to videos of choir practice gone awry, to posts that lament long checkout lines at the store — when I find God somewhere in all of this, I find myself responding not only with interest, amusement, and empathy, but even more so with gratitude for the people and relationships in whom I find God. These online Advent encounters now help me be more present to God.
But it doesn't end there.
Being present to God isn't just about feeling good in the "me and God" moment. Being present to God also has a claim on behavior. John the Baptist speaks to this in an Advent reading from the Gospel of Luke. In the reading, there is a crowd near John, seeking his advice on how to grow in faith and discipleship. "What are we to do?" asks the crowd (Luke 3:10). John responds with advice that is simple and direct. Share what you have instead of sharing only if you have extra to give away. Be fair and honest. When you have power in a relationship, be respectful and just to those around you.
I imagine myself standing with the crowd, listening to John the Baptist's advice and thinking about how to translate it into action online in the 21st century. It's really not much of a stretch. After all, social technologies are built with crowds in mind. One way that a modern crowd might act on John's advice is through crowdfunding. Using platforms such as YouCaring, we can contribute financially to individuals in need. Crowdfunding also is a way to support organizations of all sizes that address pressing needs worldwide, such as homelessness, lack of safe drinking water, deforestation, hunger and human trafficking.
Sharing online from what we have isn't limited to financial resources. We also can share in very powerful ways via social networks. We can start conversations and share information about important issues in our world. We can engage in conversations in the social networks of others who are committed to peace, justice, and mercy. These are things we can do not only in the "season of giving," but throughout the entire year as well.
One of the many remarkable capacities of social media is that it gives the individual a voice as never before in human history. Each day, millions of people around the globe are active online. In many countries, anyone with a social media account can speak to the world. This is the case even though the vastness of the Internet may sometimes make us feel like we are a voice crying out in the wilderness. Yet social media gives us the very real capacity to be heard and to connect with other people who are alert to the needs and realities of our times and who wish to make a positive difference in the world. Using social media is a way to exercise our prophetic voice as Christians and take action.
With Christmas just days away, may we make the most of this Advent time to prepare the way of our God. May our online social activity continue to proclaim peace, justice and mercy.
[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.]