Do spirituality and technology connect?
Google the topics “spirituality and technology.” 54,700,000 hits will pop up on your screen in less than half a minute. Pick up the Sept.-Oct. 2013 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The lead article reports on a futurist/scientist’s vision that by 2045 humanity likely will achieve digital immortality. Catch the evening NBC World News report on breakthroughs teachers are making in reaching autistic children through computer programs that increase their ability to concentrate.
Now consider that on Oct. 3, Sisters of Providence from Boston to Taiwan all shared in Mass for the Feast of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin via Livestream from the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. That experience stirred one sister on mission far from Saint Mary’s to email joyously: “Today, the Reunion Prayer took on new meaning.”
Feel the wonder, mixed with concern. Technology has many faces. It affects the human spirit in a variety of ways.
We live in a world and a universe that is interconnected in amazing ways. Sisters of Providence educate in classrooms where children can take virtual tours of the places about which they are studying. They interact with lessons drawn on smart boards. SPs serve in parishes where adult faith formation is influenced as much by blogs on the Internet as it is by materials distributed at a study session. We minister in health-care environments where consultation with doctors and specialists at a distance can occur instantaneously.
Communications from cyberspace saturate us and our world daily. Carrying wireless phones addicts millions to the notion that humans have to be connected 24/7. In The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor,18), Brandon Vogt reports that YouTube “receives two billion views per day. Twitter has 190 million users [including Pope Francis] who generate 65 million new ‘tweets’ each day and the Internet features 200 million+ blogs.”
Finding meaning in such a world can be a significant task. It is in the work of doing this task that I perceive technology and spirituality intersect, especially for one rooted in Providence.
Sister Barbara Doherty, in the New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, writes: “Providence is that name of God which brings the motions of human existence into meaning…. The word denotes human experiences of loss/gain … abandonment/care, disorder/order, … and allows the blending of one motion into another in creating the whole of life.”
As we process the abundance of information that flows into our lives each day, sometimes right through the iPhones in our hand, our roots in Providence spirituality provide us a lens for slowing down and valuing relationships. This can enable us to discern “what it all means” as we respond to life’s unfolding.
As residents in a digital universe who embrace Providence, we have a unique call to witness to God’s creative, redeeming presence amid varied artificial intelligences. As persons of hope we hold what it means to be human in creative tension with technological advancements that serve and challenge us daily. We can work to assure that all citizens of Earth have access to technologies essential for them to thrive. We can strive to counter technologies that might dehumanize.
God offers us the wonders of technology as both gift and challenge. Will we use technology to evolve gracefully as a species? Or will we, as the futurist predicted, allow its potentialities to deceive us into believing that we can be God? The choice is ours.
(Originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)