Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Catholic Post Book Review: "Prayer in the Digital Age"

Here's my April column that appears in this week's Catholic Post.  I hope you'll join in the discussion.  There's lots to talk about this month.


No matter how plugged in you are to digital culture, you probably have a love/hate relationship with it.

Who of us with an Internet connection hasn’t spent an hour, or more, frittering away time checking Facebook updates, YouTube videos, learning about some random thing on Wikipedia, reading interesting (perhaps even worthwhile) Internet articles, and at the end of the time said, “Wow, where did that time just go?”

At the same time, technology is great.  For me, connecting with people and ideas online has given me a unique way to grow my faith & friendships, as well as support me in my vocation as a wife and mother. Technology enables my far-flung extended family to connect and catch up in ways not possible even 5 years ago.  And I love how I can get my news from so many sources, not remotely possible in years past.

But how much is too much?  How do we integrate real-life relationships and demands with our online interests and even responsibilities?  And where does God fit in to all of this?

Prayer in the Digital Age, by Matt Swaim, explores those questions and many more about the nature of one’s Internet life.  Each chapter is an essay on how the “Digital Age” presents challenges to living a life connected to God and to our real-life communities.  Swaim presents a compelling case that when we are not well-informed and well-formed, and therefore alert to real dangers, Internet use can be like “giving a baby a chain saw.”

Even though he starts off the book recounting how he (accidentally) ruined his smartphone, allowing him true silence on a retreat, Swaim’s not recommending a Luddite return to pre-Internet days.  Rather, he’s engaging head-on the frenetic pace of the Internet and what it means for our souls.

For me, the best chapter of the book is “Digital, But Disciplined,” full of great ideas for making prayer part of one’s life, especially those whose work or interests leads them online for part or much of the day.  Also a great feature is the appendix of “Patron Saints of the Digital Age,” from St. Bernadine of Siena for advertisers to St. Paul the Apostle for public relations and St. Isidore of Seville for the Internet itself.

Prayer in the Digital Age raises more questions for discussions than it answers, not necessarily a bad thing.

Swaim invites readers not to abandon, but to take a step away from, the laptop & smartphone, and then consider what helps us and hurts our spiritual lives. Best of all, the book encourages us to live our lives, whether online or in real life, more intentionally and prayerfully.

If you’re interested in how the Digital Age relates to our Catholic faith, also consider:

Already There:  Letting God Find You by Mark Mossa, S.J .  This book, in many ways, provides answers to questions raised in Prayer in the Digital Age.  Mossa writes well of our desire for God, God’s desire for us, and how to fulfill those with balance.

It surprised me how much I loved Mossa explaining spiritual concepts with pop culture references.  Even when I ‘m not a fan of a work mentioned (for instance, I happen to be one of the few who loathe the movie Good Will Hunting), the context and message is worthwhile. Already There is a very spiritually edifying book in what Fr. James Martin, SJ, rightly calls Mossa’s “beautiful voice.”

Media Mindfulness:  Educating Teens About Faith and Media by Gretchen Hailer, RSHM, and Rose Pacatte, FSP.  Because this great resource, written by a sister catechists and Daughter of St. Paul media expert, was published way back in 2007 (!), it doesn’t address newer Internet trends like Facebook and Twitter.  Still, this book has tremendous value in helping adults who work with teens explore the culture & media in light of our Catholic faith.   The message: don’t just uncritically accept what you read, see and consume, but filter it through your faith, is a good take-away not just for teens, but everyone.


  1. Great review, Nancy. I liked the "Digital, But Disciplined" chapter, too. I think its there that he suggest using cell phone or computer alarms to regularly remind you to prayer--great idea!

    Here's my take on the book:

  2. A contemporary approach to prayer with a good selection of Catholic voices that you've found for your review.

    Part of the instinct of the Catholic (as well as the Orthodox) writers seems to be the need to remain in conversation with those (in this case, spiritual writers) who've gone before us. Thanks!