When I was a very little girl, I gathered…I’m sure nobody taught me this…that in order to pray, one had to have a particular posture; head bowed, eyes closed, hands clasped. It was also clear to me that those prayers always had to have words, either recited or extemporaneous. And while I was always drawn towards the idea of prayer, I ever felt very good at those wordy exercises. When I discovered the meditation practices of the East, I had no idea that many of these same practices would be called “prayer” by contemplative Christians or Jews. It was a revelation that brought me back home, so to speak, to the practices of my own Christian heritage, and in that exploration, I discovered that all kinds of things that I had found myself to be useful spiritual tools; journaling, walking, art, chant, and picturing loved ones in my mind’s eye, could also be considered prayer. For someone who had always felt a bit spiritually backwards, it was wonderful to discover that I had been praying all along…but with things in my hands, or a spring in my step.
Last year, I spent a few sabbatical months in a faraway city. I had only a couple of suitcases with me, my Kindle for books, and a new smartphone, which I had purchased mostly for its map capability. I had a book to write and a city to explore and time for silence and prayer. And that’s when I learned to pray with a Smartphone.
Away from my landline, my phone was my lifeline to the world. It was never off, I was careful to take it everywhere with me, and I found all kinds of capabilities besides phone and map!. I discovered quickly why it is that the younger generation is said to check their messages before they get out of bed in the morning! (While I was discovering smart phones, that younger generation was discovering Ipads and Tablets, which do everything except make phone calls even better than a smart phone. While I have no direct experience with tablet computing, everything I’m about to say about phones goes for tablets, too.)
Having learned to take pencils, journals, books, and art supplies into my prayer time, perhaps it was inevitable that I started taking my phone. That might seem off-putting to some, but a smart phone is, after all just a tool, as a pen and paper or a printed book might be. All tools take getting used to, and none work for everybody, but I’m certainly not going to put a limit on what tools God can use to get through to me! I encourage you to try some of these suggestions and see if they work for you. Even if the old ways feel better to you, those of us who advise that younger generation should keep them in mind.
Praying with Photos
Those of us who keep a prayer list can, of course keep that list on a memo in our phone, but I have loved praying with photos I’ve taken or downloaded. For me, seeing faces helps a lot! You can even have folders of pictures for days of the week, and besides faces, you can snap photos or download pictures from the web to remind you of situations you want to pray for.
Especially if one has the larger surface and better resolution of a tablet or Ipad, it would be possible to download images of icons or other evocative religious symbols for meditation. You can even download a video of a flickering candle! Perhaps none of these are “as good” as gazing at the real thing, but the “real thing” is not always available.
Using the Clock
For those who find it easier to sink down into meditation if they know they will be called out of it at a particular time, (Or who don’t want to be distracted wondering how much time has passed), there are lots of meditation timers available. The virtual ones can be downloaded from the phone’s app store, but many phones come with a clock/stopwatch/timer function built in. Often it is possible to change the alert tone to something more gentle than an alarm beep.
Using the Music Player
Smart Phones often double as MP3 players, which means that it is possible to download all manner of chants and prayer services. This can be especially useful for prayer/meditation in a distracting environment. Pop in your earbuds, press play, and you can create a spiritual space wherever you are. (This tool is also useful in the dentist’s office, the waiting room, and on the bus!)
Most smartphones and all tablets allow you to download files, so the day’s scriptures, poetry, or whatever you study as your spiritual practice is readily available. Multiple languages and translations and even notes and commentary can all be at your fingertips with a little advance work.
The meat of my spiritual practice during that sabbatical was a version of Lectio Divina, which I was practicing with daily chapters of the Tao Te Ching, and I summed up each day’s study with a sentence which recapped the message I wanted to take into my day with me. Then I learned about Twitter: which is a very quick and easy way to share very short messages…144 characters or less. That limit was a good challenge for me, and although I didn’t seek out any followers, I eventually developed quite a few. I also learned how to get my twitters to automatically appear on my Facebook page, where commenters encouraged me to compile the Twitters into a book. Twittering one’s spiritual practice turns out to have a downside; it take discipline to keep this a spiritual practice and not a performance. But it is another way to share. Twitter has another spiritual benefit. If you “follow” the right people, you will find an unending supply of uplifting quotes, scripture passages, and links to poems.
I expected to return to paper and pen in my spiritual practice after that sabbatical was over, but it didn’t work that way. Now I pray with my phone in my hand every morning. Hello, Is that you, God?
Christine Robinson is the senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the author of The Twittered Tao and co-author of two books for small group ministry, Heart to Heart and Soul to Soul. She Twitters as RevCrobinson.