Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is blogging worship?

Is online worship possible? I have seen links to "online meeting for worship" and it unnerves me.

a friend the other day said something about the flurry of activity in the quaker blogosphere and suggested that perhaps we needed to "settle into worship" - I can see why that proposal might seem rightly led, but I can't imagine it? What would it mean to "settle into worship" in virtual reality???

Isn't worship something more powerfully local, more physically intimate, simply bigger, and more real, than can be acheived in our "community" - or whatever it is???

I see blogging as an intellectual exchange. Like some Quakers I thoroughly enjoy jumping into the fray of a good, messy theological/political/cultural debate/discussion, but I don't think that just because I'm doing it with other Quakers that it's worship. I certainly can take some time to listen to spirit, but I can't enter worship sitting alone (or accompanied) in front of my computer.

Computers help me understand the old belief that cameras steal your soul. I don't actually think cameras or computers steal your sould, but they both do proport to present you, perhaps even to present you "whole" - when they do nothing of the sort.

Much of us is missing here, and that's okay, if we remember it (I think) and don't forget that it exists, in ourselves and the other flesh and blood people in our lives, because our "virtual reality" interactions start to seem whole to us.

what think you?


liberata said...

I had plenty of online interaction ... discussion lists and (clean) chat rooms, but I still went in search of a religious practice that I could immerse myself in ...in real time and real space.

Sure, I can hear God's voice in someone's post. As a matter of fact, it happens quite a lot. But that's not the same as listening to the inward voice.

Someone's words or ideas can motivate me to act, but the inward voice and inward light become me and my actions. Sort of the difference between a push from the exterior and food that has been metabolized and assimilated so that it's now part of my being, part of my cell structure.

That said, it must be difficult for people who would like to be part of a Quaker community but who have none nearby. I can understand, I think, how an online meeting would be better than none at all. I wonder if persons who participate in virtual meetings experience something radically different (and, hopefully, superior) if they do get the opportunity to attend a real meeting.

Plain Foolish said...

I sort of agree and sort of disagree. For me, worship can happen anywhere (my definition of worship is likely not yours - mine is probably less specific). It can happen on a crowded Metro train, or while getting snagged by blackberry bramble. It's been known to happen in the middle of intellectual exchanges and while crafting. For me, writing is sometimes a spiritual exercise, an attempt to put into words that moment of revelation and worship.

I do not think we can be entirely present to each other online - realtime relationships are still important, but I can also see how blogging can be part of one's spiritual expression.

earthfreak said...

Liberta - yes, you say it beautifully!

I too understand the "plight" of those who have no meeting community nearby, but I have a concern about pretending that an online experience is even remotely the same thing. I guess for me worshipping alone (far from a computer) would come closer, and yet would be quite far off as well)

PF - I totally agree. I do think that blogging can be spiritual expression (though I'm okay with it being more "secular" for myself as well) and a source of spiritual connection with others. I simply don't think that it is meeting for worship, or even a new form of meeting for worship. It is, in my experience, primarily and intellectual exchange.

And, as you say, moments of worship can manifest during intellectual exchange, as well as almost anywhere else, but that doesn't make those things worship.

My concern is only that we will cheapen "the real thing" and find ourselves lost from the power of it, if we attempt to find, or "make" it where it cannot exist.


Plain Foolish said...

I don't think the real thing will be cheapened. I don't think it can be, really. It is what it is. I could see being concerned that people might try to substitute one thing for another. For example, no matter how much soy milk there is in the world, it is still not milk. (Sorry for the non-vegan analogy - I thought of sugar, but I loathe all sugar substitutes from the bottom of my soul.) I enjoy soymilk with Mexican chocolate or marzipan cocoa, but I have to remember that it doesn't have the same blend of vitamins that milk does, and compensate accordingly.

In the same way, while in some ways, I feel that blogging was something I was led to begin, it is not a substitute for getting my silly self out under the trees, or for face-to-face interactions. (Since Meeting is mostly silent, I can't imagine trying to find a substitute for sitting quietly in a light-filled room with other people while listening together in an online interaction, but that's me.)

Canine Diamond said...

I don't think that, for me, at least, online anything will ever replace actually going to meeting.

I don't mean that as a dig at blogging/the online community, though, because they serve different purposes for me. I don't consider blogging worship, really. Not that great things can't come of it and that there aren't sometimes worshipful aspects to it, but they don't feel the same to me at all. Blogging, at least my version of it, is much too self-centered and talky.

Online communication is essentially on my terms--even if I don't care for what's going on, I can log off or change the subject or go over to Mudcat and see what they're talking about instead. I cannot control in-real-life worship because there are so many others involved, which I think is a good thing.

Plain Foolish said...

The point about control is a good one. Perhaps it is that I'm so used to Jewish services, where while everyone is more or less on the same page, mostly people daven at their own pace, so my brother in law, the Hebrew expert, has finished the Amidah while I am still muttering halfway through... one of the things I like about Meeting is that it has that same feeling of comfort with different paces. The issue is not whether I can keep up with someone else, but whether I am adding my part to the gathering.

Canine Diamond said...

Ha! Thanks for saying that so much better than I did, Plain Foolish. I managed to get the start of the idea but not the end of it.

Plain Foolish said...

Another great Baal Shem Tov story is one that takes place at the end of Yom Kippur and the moment comes to blow the shofar so the fast is over, and everyone can go eat and drink and maybe get a bit of a bath. Well, the Baal Shem Tov is in charge of sounding the shofar, but he doesn't do it, and folks are getting restless. Finally, he picks up the shofar and sounds it. When someone asks him why he waited so long, he replied that an illiterate man at the back of the synagogue had been reciting the alphabet for God to arrange in prayers, and that was the prayer that would lift all the others to heaven, so he couldn't blow the shofar until the prayer was finished, lest the other prayers be lost.

Plain Foolish said...

Thank you, by the way, Canine Diamond, for putting the thought out there at all - it totally sparked new thoughts for me. I'm still thinking a little about the whole control thing.

Thee, Hannah! said...

I hope it doesn't sound like I meant it was chaotic, only that it made me participate in something outside myself. Blogging does that, too, but I can always change websites. I tend to be a bit of a control freak and I need the immediate two-sidedness sometimes.

I'm sure it's less of an issue for other people, but it is for me and I have to keep that in mind.

earthfreak said...

no, TH, I think you really helped to get at what I meant - the mfw is relationship, it's important that we're with a group of people who are listening and seeking together, and a big part of that is that it's not "on our terms"

You're right, blogging is at our own discretion (as is attending meeting, but once you're there you've let that go, to a large extent) - I suppose to quote something I've heard Liz say, it's not a covenant community, there is no committment involved in reading another's blog, which I think, in quaker communities that "work" there is.

(though of course, you can form relationships through blogging, just like you can in real life, but it's my experience anyway that they are lacking a number of dimensions until you've been in the same place as someone - breathed the same air.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I've been thinking myself some about what my bloggins is like. Not worship, I don't think... but, at it's best, I think that blogging can be a bit like worship sharing.

Earthfreak quotes Liz as saying that the blogoshere is "not a covenant community, there is no committment involved in reading another's blog, which I think, in quaker communities that "work" there is." And I think that's important, but also something that makes me uneasy.

I'll agree that spiritual community needs to involve enough of a committment so that we actually get to know one another well enough to see each other as real, not just as idealized projections of community. I will not grow spiritually if my idea of community is some glowing abstract... not until I connect and remain connected with another person who has real, annoying, human flaws am I really in community with them. Real community members pick their teeth, forget to recycle, snore, or have bad breath--at least some of the time. It's surely developing the strength to love and care for such real people that makes us whole. I get that. And, yeah, blogging isn't a substitute for face-to-face worship (and maybe even more important, fellowship) because it's too easy to miss that whole dimension.

But I'm finding myself uneasy with the idea that my spiritual life should center on a "covenanted community." I've been reading Patricia Loring's _Listening Spirituality_--the volume on corporate spiritual practice. And a lot of what she writes about meetings as a place to develop that ability to love and chrish one another strikes home for me. But I also get the sense that spiritual community outside the MFW is discounted--that there's an implication that "real" community happens only within the fellowship of a meeting.

I could well be misunderstanding her. Or not seeing something important. But I think we're all members of many sacred communities: at work, with the earth, with friends who are not Friends, and so on. In some ways, these are not "covenanted" community, I suppose. But in other ways, they are--right? Ultimately, the experience of gathering, or something akin to it, at least, can happen in other contexts, can't it? And isn't it most wonderful when it can?

I'm not saying anyone here is saying that spiritual community outside of MFW is invalid or impossible. But sometimes I think I get an echo of such a sentiment, and it makes me uneasy.

If you are not real enough to me for me to be fully present to you online, or if I am not able to commit to trying to be in community with you because we are not "covenanted," this is my own limitation, isn't it? Common enough, and hard to overcome, in my small, limited human way... but about my own smallness, not the impossiblity of it, isn't it?

I'm not sure I'm making sense. But this thread was close enough to something I'm turning over in my mind that I wanted to join it, and perhaps get some feedback from more seasoned Friends...

James Riemermann said...

Cat, I think you call attention to something very important. I do feel a strong sense of covenant with my meeting, my direct communty of Friends, and this enriches my life in countless ways. But if that's where it ends, if it's just about thr group of us feeling secure and loved with each other...well, that's just not good enough.

The deeper value of this covenant is in how, at its best, it is a model, inspiration and practice for our relationship with all of humanity, all of creation. For me, at least, it is relativly easy to be in such community with my meeting, because I know them, I know their children, I have a sense of their human strengths and weaknesses. Even the Friends who annoy me bless me with their presence. It's a lot like family in that way.

We need to make an imaginative leap, to realize that there is no essentail difference between the Friend I sat next to in worship today, and any human being selected at random from any country on earth. We need to imaginatively expand the circle of Friends to encompass everyone, and do our best to live our lives that way.

This is just me talking, of course; I don't come close to measuring up to this ideal. But that is the ideal; that is what we need to bring to mind when we speak of covenant community. Otherwise it's just tribalism, as one blogging Friend has often stated.

earthfreak said...

Oh, OOPS!! I knew I'd get myself in trouble.

Really all I'm quoting Liz on is the phrase "covenant community" - I learned it from her (she reads way more quaker stuff than I do!) She did NOT say that blogging isn't a covenant community. In fact, if I were to guess, I would say that Liz sees much more potential for the quaker blogosphere to be a covenant community than I do (which isnt' hard to do) - but that's only my guess, not even a terribly educated one.

I tend to think that I don't even really know what Liz, or the people who write books about it, mean by the phrase. I have sort of taken it on along with an interpretation that pretty much has it much like a family - people to whom you are committed because you are, rather than because they never rub you the wrong way (I don't really have a family, so I think I am particuarly enamored of the idea of being part of another community with similarly strong ties, and my meeting has more or less been that for me numerous times.

As James says, I think that the ideal is that meeting is the ideal where we learn and practice how to be with all of creation. We are in covenant community with everyone (every living being) but it's hard (for some of us) to start from there.

My concern is mostly about when I hear people say "let's settle into silence" or some such phrase on a blog - It doesn't mean anything - does it? what does it mean to settle into worship online? I guess part of my issue (neo luddite that I am) is that being in a room with a computer on, much less interacting with one, doesnt' feel spiritually silent or grounded to me. I question whether (such or any) technology can even be part of spiritual activity, let alone akin to worship.


Liz Opp said...

Great post, Pam. And wonderful comments here. So much to hold and consider...

I have been away for the last week, and seeing my name in comments here that are attached to the phrase "covenant community," well, I feel I have a responsibility for clarifying a few things.

First: I came across the phrase "covenant community" in Lloyd Lee Wilson's book Essays on the Quaker Vision.... What resonates with me about what Lloyd Lee has written is that in a covenant community, there is interdependence with community members drawing on one another for practical help as well as pastoral care; AND the primary relationship is the relationship each community member has with the Divine; AND all those "primary relationships" that exist within the community also connect each member to every other member.

In this way, when we disappoint or otherwise fail one another, we are less likely to feel personally betrayed by the other person. But Lloyd Lee puts it more elegantly than I can:

Our primary bond is to God, which makes the community itself resilient and capable of great healing. The crises and interpersonal failures which could destroy a human community become, in the covenant community, opportunities for the love of God to heal and reconcile us to one another... (p. 62)

Until a few years ago, I myself could not have understood what Lloyd Lee was getting at. But then I experienced something transcendant and non-verbal within a community of Friends that helped me connect with the above passage.

Second: I feel sad to learn that some readers and Friends interpret some of the dialogue as pointing to "Quakers do it better (or best)," or that "spiritual community outside the MFW is discounted," to quote Cat in her comment.

I think that Quakers are one community among many that "do it well"--care for one another; seek justice; offer genuine forgiveness; strive to be authentic in our engagement with individuals and with the world.

Quakers are certainly not perfect, though. Why else would there be so many Quaker bloggers writing about our frustrations with Quakers?! At the same time, as Patricia Loring points out, Quakers have certain corporate (and individual) practices that bind us to one another in our faith. We don't do it "better"; we just do it "different" (e.g. clearness committees; MfW for Business; unprogrammed worship; pastoral care and eldership; yielding to our Divinely inspired leadings; etc.).

At least, that's my own take on Patricia's writing.

Third: It may well have been me who mentioned something to Pam at one point about my considering "asking for silence" or "asking for worship" from bloggers. There had been a zillion comments flying back and forth in the course of a week or so, about Convergent Friends, the phrase "that of God in everyone," and I don't recall what else.

The Quaker blogosphere is a new sort of "elephant" for us. We don't know what the etiquette REALLY is; what the bounds REALLY are; what the expectations and norms REALLY are.

But if we function with some similar understandings about Quaker practice and Quaker discipline [in the positive sense of the word], then why would we shy away from asking for all of us to consider engaging in a practice that holds meaning and value for us? Or do we leave our Quaker principles and our Quaker practices in another room before we sit down at the computer to read or write blog posts?

I think what is being alluded to here is the difference between making a request for "silence" in the blogosphere versus making the same request at MfW for Business. In the blogosphere, we can't see each other; we don't know, and we CAN'T know, that everyone is willing to come under the weight of that request. We haven't REALLY gotten to know one another in That Which Is Eternal, in such a way that if one of us makes a request for worship, we can trust that it is made with good reason (or with authentic leading or both) and therefore be willing to come under the weight of that request.

It's tricky business, and moreso over the internet. After all, there's no presiding clerk to watch "process." (...so don't we have to be acountable to watch it ourselves...?)

What I can share here, though, is that I have experienced that request made to a virtual Friends community online, and I have seen it impact (for the better) how the online discussion later evolved around a certain topic.

There is a certain Quaker listserv where participants sometimes have held the 200-300 subscribers accountable for responding to difficult posts, simply by making the request to the listserv, "Friends, may be we quiet ourselves and hold this topic prayerfully before we continue..." or some similar request.

I have yet to see this request overridden by any subscriber.

So, if indeed Pam is referring to my comment made to her about possibly asking for worship from the Quaker blogosphere during a busy blog-time, well, that is why I was considering it: my personal experience tells me that it has its place on the internet.

(BTW, Pam, if it is my comment that sparked you to post, I am in no way miffed or hurt or whatever. And if it WASN'T my comment, well, excuse me for being so big-headed about thinking it was.)

Fourth: To be clear, I would agree that blogging is NOT worship. And blogging cannot take the place of worship either, not in any way that I can foresee, anyway. I see blogging as more like personal essay, with an opportunity for exchanging ideas and for helping us grow in our understanding and, well, in our reaching for the L/light.

Thanks for reading me.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Pam,
I don't see blogging as a form of worship but it can be a type of ministry. It's clear that some bloggers take the time to settle before writing and that they come to it with discernment and discipline.

I've learned that if something really really bothers me, just gets under my craw, makes me mutter to myself, etc., etc., that this is my own reaction and that any response to it won't be grounded. If we don't understand how someone else could think something so outrageous, then maybe it's a sign that we have something caught in our own eye.

At their best, Quaker and religious blogs give us fascinating windows into the faith understandings of others; this intimacy can be almost an Opportunity (to use the old Quaker lingo) and can help us return to that worshipful state.

Alivia said...

There are multiple issues here. The question of what is worship/ how does one worship has myriad responses. In my home church we attempt to practice a simple form of spirituality, a simple form of worship that can be taken out into the world. The point being that if it is too complicated to take out into the world, is it worthwhile? Is it worship? etc. The point also being that what we do on Sunday should be no different from what we do the rest of the week. Worship happens in community, and it happens when we are physically alone-- because we are still in community. The blogosphere is challenging and stretching the idea/understanding of community. Especially the bloggers who take it upon themselves to meet and have relationships outside of the cyber world. Even in the cyber world when someone reads a post and takes it in and considers it, opens it to the light within, how is that not a form of relationship? How is that listening not a form of worship? It is all different from what we are accustomed to, yes. It is different and new and we are looking for new language for it, yes. These are important questions to ask, so that we do not lose our integrity. But the answers are both simple and not so. eh?

Charles Rathmann said...

Online worship is no more possible than physical worship. The electronic church is no more real than the brick and mortar church.

God is resident in His church -- the community of believers who carry on Jesus' ministry on earth. I see the Quaker blogosphere as more of a parallel to the early epistles of Paul and the letters of George Fox. We can encourage and admonish each other from afar, that that has value.

But worship takes place in the heart -- in truth and in spirit.

In the Light of Christ,
~ Charles Rathmann

Alivia said...

Amen Charles.

Christopher Parker said...

There have been plenty I've times I've left Meeting questioning if it was worship. Half the time because of others who like to hear themselves speak, and half the time because I've been elsewhere myself.

I also have good and bad experiences with the meeting community.

The phrase "covenented community" suggested we've agreed to operate on a higher standard. I don't see why we couldn't also agree to that on-line.

Personally for me, the computer gets in the way of my feeling the spirit directly . . . but so do the hard plastic orange chairs I remember from one Meeting in Britain. I'm sure it works for others.

Robin M. said...

For me, sometimes when I feel deeply moved by something I've read on the computer - whether because it rings so true for me or it makes me so mad or expresses something so beautifully or is obviously deep and meaningful for the writer - I tend to push my chair back from the table, set my hands in my lap, close my eyes and take a deep breath. This is, for me, a way of settling into worship. I will hold the idea(s) or phrase(s) in my mind and think of the person who wrote it and others who might be affected by these words. I may ask God for strength or peace or understanding for myself or others. Sometimes, I just leave the computer after this. Sometimes, I focus back to compose a comment.

Either way, I think this is more like reading a letter and writing back than like meeting for worship.

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