Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is the internet scrambling our brains? - 2

Following yesterday's post on the ideas of Nicholas Carr, I've been thinking about whether this affects the way we pray. Carr thinks we are losing the capacity for calm, deep, and measured thought because we are constantly hyper-stimulated by our engagement with the internet. His description of the book-reading, pre-internet mind uses language which could easily be applied to the practice of prayer. He talks of "filtering distractions", "immersing yourself" in a thought, and "solitary contemplation and reflection". So will the internet generation find it harder to engage with God in prayer?

What I wrote yesterday probably applies here as well. Some of us have brains that are naturally prone to flitting around, who find the internet a handy source of distraction. These are the same people who find it hard to engage in sustained, reflective prayer. Also, much of prayer is about habit. If we spend a lot of our time in shallow, bitty mental activity, then it will be even harder to do something different when we pray.

Again, there is the additional factor that, for many of us, the internet equals work, which brings us into the question of urgent vs. important. All parish clergy know the difficulty of trying to pray in the study, sharing a room with the computer. Email, more than anything, is a tool for bombarding us with the tyranny of the urgent, and shouts at us while we're trying to listen to God. Thank Him for quiet churches without internet connections.

On the other hand, wise spiritual guides have always recognised that there are different ways to pray. The old saying "pray as you can, not as you can't" reminds us that whatever works for us is good. If you find you can spend good time with God in bite-sized chunks, then do. Today's post at Significant Truths is the personal reflection of someone who takes this to its logical conclusion and prays with online resources. Some of the stuff Sue links to looks really good.

For myself, I like to think there's room for both in my life. Short, quickly formed prayers for the busy, work-driven times, but also longer and more reflective times. What I really need is the desire and intention to do both, and that is the place to begin. "Lord, teach us to pray"

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