April 27, 2010

Creating Common Life in a Virtual Abbey

The Reverend Joshua W. Hale is the campus minister for the Wesley Foundation at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He also serves as Associate Pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church and on The Virtual Abbey's leadership team. Josh's blog is The Expatriate Minister and you can follow him on Twitter. Here, he invites us to contemplate our work in the world.

When asked why I (attempt to) pray the Daily Office, my usual response invokes St. Paul’s concise instruction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). For me, the rhythms of praying morning, noon, and night – and in-between – awaken me from the stupor in which I often pass through daily life.

Being attentive at prayer helps me become attentive to the movement of God’s grace. But the flip side of prayerful attentiveness is prayerful activity and this is where so many challenges arise. What, exactly, are we being awakened to do through fixed-hour prayer? How can we continue prayer as we work? The time-honored Benedictine creed of ora et labora – prayer and work – emphasizes the necessity and value of both.

In the monastic tradition, even within missionary orders such as the Jesuits, we find guidelines for “life and service” grounded in the labora or praxis of the community. The Motherhouse or Daughter Priory is, of course, the physical space in which the community is maintained and also propelled out into the world. Newer monastic traditions like the Order of Saint Luke or New Day communities also have this praxis side – perhaps reconfigured or strangely structured, but there nonetheless.

So what does this mean for us in The Virtual Abbey? What forms the backbone of our common life? Moving forward, I hope we will pray, discern, and discuss what our labora should and will be. We might begin our exploration by focusing on the Benedictine virtue of hospitality: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” (RB ch 53).

What, then, does “hospitality” look like in the life of a Virtual Abbey member? How about in and for the life of the Virtual Abbey as a whole? What does hospitality mean in an online, social media, virtual context? How might we have a guesthouse? What invitations to common prayer might be made? Who is our neighbor?

I don’t have any facile answers to these questions. That would be too easy! But I do harbor the conviction that these questions clear the ground for a holy conversation with the potential to terraform the virtual landscape around the Virtual Abbey and the neighborhoods surrounding each of us IRL (in real life).

May our common life continue to be enriched by attentive prayer and prayerful activity, in the pattern of our Risen Savior, Christ Jesus.


pmelfi said...

Amen ~Pixie Melfi~

Regina Colleen said...

Looking forward to exploring this with you. I think two "areas" that might be explored include 1) the community's organic ecumenism and 2)using the Daily Office as a way of introducing people to prayer. The intersection of these two is particularly interesting to me, since my Protestant friends (some of whom I went to seminary with) think the Office is so inherently Catholic that it can't be exported to the Protestant context, yet I tend to think that non-guided prayer can be awfully intimidating to someone who is trying to learn to pray. I've got an M.Div. and I was never really able to master it, but a year of regularly praying even one part of the Office has changed my life completely.

Elizabeth Cunningham said...

Great questions. I just referred a friend (who has been suffering persecution from some Christian quarters) to the Virtual Abbey community. The Virtual Abbey's presence is an act of hospitality and charity in a online world that sometimes lacks both qualities. I am most grateful.

Meredith Gould said...

Love the questions and the way you've framed them, Josh. As a practical matter, I think we need to more actively invite other faith communities constituted as such on Twitter (e.g. #tworship, #emergent) to join us in prayer. My hope is that our public engagement not only in prayer but with one another as a community seems more hospitable than cliquish. I believe the way participants, especially those in the virtual back pews, are acknowledged and appreciated also reveals our receptivity. Thanks be to God!

Anonymous said...

I think these are great questions to ponder.

I wonder whether simple things, such as putting the Abbey's prayers up on a website for those who can't currently follow them on twitter (and people in different time zones) might be a good idea. Twitter is wonderful, but transient, and hard to follow later on. It's great when communities using the internet think about the international dimensions of the community, and other ways of embracing and rejoicing in diversity.


Ruth said...

Thanks for this post and this discussion.

Ever since I've joined TVA, I've noticed how praying at a fixed hour has changed my prayer life. It feels like a blessed respite from the day. It's quite a gift.

Unfortunately when I arrive for night prayer, I'm often so tired and my assistive technology is lagging, so all I manage to do is RT a line of prayer. I can tell you that spiritually I'm much more enthusiastic than that! I'm blessed I can RT because it makes me feel a part of things. Some of my disabled friends can't RT or follow along on Twitter. They could, however, deal with a static web site, such as a virtual guest house.

I like the idea of offering , as Naomi suggests, the Abbey's prayers on a site for those in different time zones or who physically struggle with following along on Twitter. (It could include a language translator.)

This would provide an alternative to the often quick pace of Twitter and, perhaps, a comfort to anyone who misses the scheduled times.

Regina Colleen said...

Hi Ruth, I feel the same way sometimes about Twitter going too fast, like it all passes me by, especially at night when I am super-tired. In lieu of a static website, sometimes I just go to TVA Twitter page listing everything that has been tweeted recently. That has been helpful to me, maybe it would help you as well. Peace.

Ruth said...


Thanks for your suggestion. It's an idea I considered, but it really wouldn't address access issues for people with disabilities.

There are blind people, for example, who find Twitter impossible to use at all.

David Weller, OSL said...


In case this might assist you, have you visited http://essentialaccessibility.com/ ?
I've added it to a couple of my own websites in hopes of helping disabled visitors.