Psalms, tweets and spirituality in the digital age

by Donna Schaper

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By Maria Mankin and Maren C. Tirabassi
Published by Pilgrim Press, $18

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to wonder about technology. Will it be our great savior or will it be another thorn in the flesh, another opportunity to hear Henry David Thoreau’s lament?

"But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools," he wrote in 1854's Walden.

Inside From the Psalms to the Cloud: Connecting to the Digital Age lies an excellent collection of prayers and worship materials that finds a way to help us understand the tool of technology. It is a useful green book, on that gives us a way out of the totalitarian world of the market and into a world that we make with words.

It seems just about everybody is on the other side of the time famine -- that pervasive sense that there is not enough time to do what we want to do -- and the trust famine -- that is, with so little time and so much information probing, who’s exactly in charge? It seems many are deep into digital and connectivity overload.  

As Thoreau observed, are we in charge of our tools and our time, or are our tools and time famine in charge of us?

In this optimistic book, the prophets arrive. Authors Maria Mankin and  Maren Tirabassi ask the right question: Can a technology devoted to advertising be useful to spirituality?

They answer with a careful yes, taking us on the long road from the psalms to Twitter, by way of “vintage wine in vintage wineskins, uncorked.” 

Mankin and Tirabassi gather the wisdom from dozens of writers of prayers and liturgies to show us a way to go deep digitally. Whether they are praying for energy that will “deeply change all of our clocks,” or for the return of the time when sanctuary for immigrants will become again “dusty places with pews,” or in any of John Dannon’s exquisite doxologies for the natural and ecclesiastical seasons, or beginning a prayer with the language of “To Whom It may Concern,” or encourage us to “spend a day saying nothing that doesn’t need saying.” 

The prayer topics move through addiction to pregnancy to a ritual for quitting a job. What a great ask this is for those confused or overdone with technology: We pray “for a trap door when we hit rock bottom.”

The book, a welcome contrast to the multiple volumes of doom on the shelves, also shows us how to organize a flash mob of angels -- a gathering in unlikely places to do unlikely things, like listening to each other and finding great language to use in praying. Mankin and Tirabassi also included an excellent summary of biblical texts that enjoy the phrase “to write,” making for a great personal practice or group practice. One chapter is devoted to traditional worship, another to experimental worship, but both use language beautifully. 

Nothing can be as green as worshipping. We move off the road of consumption into another time and space. Nothing can be as green as technology, which keeps us out of our cars and connected virally.

The “world” “wide” “web” is another language for the planet and the cosmos, as well. Putting the two together, carefully, is a great idea. Adding the theological training course is a mighty work. 

After reading From the Psalms to the Cloud, though, it’s possible to feel we are less the tools of our tools.

"Prayer for Many Mansions" by Maren Tirabassi

God, sweet as charoset,
Complex as the nine-pointed star of Baha’i,
Deep as salah,
Cut your cross in our hearts
So that our intolerance pours away
And we are open to
The beautiful and many
Ways your children worship. Amen


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