For most of us, a computer and Internet access are an essential part of our jobs. In fact, it’s hard to imagine working without them. From email to newsletters to research and banking, a great deal of our time is spent with fingers curled around a mouse and eyes focused on a screen. Which naturally brings me to Lent. What? You don’t see the connection? I’m shocked!
No, I’m just kidding. Seeing a connection between Lent, our work and the Internet is such a new phenomenon there hasn’t been much emphasis put on it. After all, it’s only been 20 or so years since computers and Internet access became widespread and 20 years is a mere nanosecond in Church time. However, since the Internet has become such an important focus in our lives, finding ways to use it to build up our spiritual lives and enhance our Lenten experience is something to consider seriously.
One way to use the Internet as part of Lenten discipline might be to (gasp) stop using it! Going on an Internet-free fast for 40 days might be the modern day equivalent of giving up all meat, dairy and alcohol as some people did in the past. However — and here’s the stickler for most of us — we actually can’t shut down the computer and turn off the Internet router, because they have become major ways we communicate with our co-workers, family and friends. To stop using them would be the equivalent of going on a 40 day silent retreat and most of us simply can’t afford — in every sense of the word — that much time away from our daily obligations.
What we can do, however, is eliminate mindless surfing and compulsive communication. Social sites like Facebook can consume an inordinate amount of our time, without our even being aware of it. Checking news and gossip sites can make us feel more informed, but 90 percent of the time they simply rehash the same information all day long. So one idea for Lent might be strictly limit the non-essential time you spend on the Internet. Instead of going to CNN every hour, check in once in the morning (if you must) and perhaps once at bedtime. Go to Facebook once a day, instead of three or four (or more times) each day. Read your email at specific times instead of constantly checking to see if someone has sent you another joke to pass along. Instead of instant-messaging someone in another office, get up and walk over to their desk and have a real conversation. Use the time you free up to pray, journal, walk, reflect, write a real letter, or get some long-overdue projects started.
If giving up the Internet isn’t something you feel is right for you (and it may not be, depending on your job, your family connections, etc.) then take a different tack. Use it to create holy moments during your day, snippets of time when you use your computer screen as a way to focus on what’s truly important in life.
One of my favorite places is www.sacredspace.ie, a website run by the Irish Jesuits that features the Scripture of the Day, reflections and prayers. Ten minutes spent reading and reflecting on the Word may be an ideal way to start your workday this Lent.
Another I’m looking forward to this year is Busted Halo’s “Fast Pray Give” Lenten calendar at www.bustedhalo.com/features/fast-pray-give. Each day a new link becomes active, revealing both contemplative and practical suggestions. And alas, it doesn’t allow for cheating. If you click ahead you get the message, “No peeking! You can’t look at a future day in the Lent calendar.” So, if nothing else, the calendar requires a daily discipline!
Finally, while there are a number of online prayer sites, one of my favorites is Come Pray the Rosary at www.comepraytherosary.org. Come Pray the Rosary offers both audio and visual guides to saying the rosary, but what I love is that the sites shows how many people are “praying” with you along with simply gorgeous pictures from the Holy Land. I never fail to feel uplifted after even a few minutes there.
Like so many things, the Internet is neither good nor bad; it’s what we do with it that makes the difference. This Lent, employ this amazing technology to make the season one of deeper prayer and growing faith both at home and at work. As St. Paul said to the Corinthians: Maranatha! Our Lord, Come!