Spirituality and Religious Practice in a Technological Age
(c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2005
The internet has allowed our generation the experience of having access to everything, everywhere, all of the time. It truly is the new age of information and it has provided a powerful tool for global connectedness on many levels. Many of us participate in internet discussion groups and forums on a regular basis and have developed relationships and friendships with like minded people around the world even though we have never met. While some forums and discussion groups can be extremely negative experiences, and those related to spirituality and religion can sometimes be the most fractious and discouraging, there is also the opportunity to share and communicate our hopes, fears, ideas, wisdom, questions and to express our needs for comfort and support during times of personal crisis. The internet has provided the cyberspace foundation for the building of spiritual communities on both the local and global level.
We live in a world that is increasingly busy and businesslike. We see the erosion of the family and of mainstream spiritual and religious communities. This doesn't mean that people are any less interested in religion or spirituality, or their family, but is more indicative of the constraints of time and money on individuals. It is also a very great sign that more and more people are self-constructing their spiritual practice to reflect their own individuality. Organized religions of all types have responded to this in quite constructive and innovative manners.
Post modern worship has changed from traditional worship practices in many ways. There is a growing trend towards team leadership of spiritual and religious groups. This variety of leadership brings a variety of expertise and experience in the way of art, music, theological and philosophical interests, as well as the writing and certain visual arts. The use of dicussion groups, chat rooms and forums allows for continuous and instantaneous feedback from all participants which aids significantly in the planning and implementing of group worship and rituals. This allows for a wonderful spontaneity that can be absent in traditional forms of worship. Language and the ability to articulate and express oneself well in a dry format is extremely critical - we lose facial expressions and tone in internet discussion lists and forums. This can lead to significant misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Clarity in communication becomes a critical component of success.
We have extensive foundations now for Internet Radio and Television broadcasting, as well as the technologies to create audio and video files for the individual to access at their own convenience. The access to webcams and online microphones also allows for a completely interactive experience, for those who have these apparatus at their disposal, to participate in a Ritual or Ceremony in Real Time.
In the development of on online spiritual community and practice, the diversity of age, gender, race, economic status, religious background or lack, sexual orientation, ethnicity and whether or not one is conservative or liberal in ones thinking, should become moot or neutered points. It allows a rare place and opportunity for all human experience to have validity and equality. The internet as a place to explore spirituality and religion is especially welcoming for people who have auditory, visual or physical handicaps. Technological advances allows for software which enables the blind to read online and the visual experience is particularly enriched for the hearing impaired. Advances in technology have opened up a whole new world for people with accessibility issues. The commonality of the worship can create and grow a real community.
Ritual and Ceremony are important aspects of any religion and spiritual practice. A Ceremony is a formal activity conducted on a solemn or important public or state occasion, like a coronation. It is also a formal religious or sacred observance, a solemn rite like a marriage ceremony. It encompasses the formal observances and gestures related to the ceremony itself. It can also be a conventional act of politeness or etiquette. A Ritual is an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite. It can describe the order of words used for a specific ceremony or rite. It is a system or collection of religious and other rites as well as the observance of set forms of public worship. Ritual is often considered to be a form of language as well as the preserver of harmony between heaven and earth.
Ritual and Ceremony often involve certain types of dress, gestures, movements, prayers, breathing, bowing, kneeling, symbols, vocal chants, hymns and songs, chimes, bells, candles, incenses, altars and drums. In the drier internet forms of communication such as discussion lists, forums and chatrooms, we lose the atmosphere and ambience of these spiritual accompaniments in other than a singular perspective. This singularity does have the advantage of allowing the individual to personally connect with "spirit" through their own meditation, prayer, personal choice of music, and created atmosphere. The worship in this type of setting is not overly defined, scripturally or dogmatically determined, and multiple interpretations and meanings are expected and anticipated.
Ultimately it comes down to what your own concept of worship is and your own personal needs and intentions. Ceremony and Ritual serve a useful purpose in helping us to order our thoughts, desires and intentions. This clarity and focus create the framework to draw them into our reality and allow us both articulation and actualization of those needs and desires. Ceremony and ritual also create a sense of unity, both with others and the Divine, that is bigger than ourselves and can sooth feelings of personal isolation and alienation that so many people feel. If the internet can help connect those in need of spiritual comfort to something higher and to help heal some of the loneliness that is the human condition, then it serves a higher purpose and it serves it well.