(This is Neil, again.) There are interesting discussions about the faith of young adults here and here, both inspired by a Catholic News Service story that quoted the Purdue sociologist James Davidson as saying about young Catholics, “They practice their faith by caring for other people,” while finding the institutional church to be lacking any credibility, plausibility, or authenticity. The Catholic News Service article does end with “signs of hope,” going on to quote a Georgetown campus minister as saying that the students she encounters have “a very real, deep desire to grow in their faith and spirituality.” “They respond well to outreach,” Catherine Heinhold says, “and they are really hungry for God.”
I was thinking about all this when Crystal‘s blog sent me to another blog, written by the Jesuit Thomas Rochford, and, more specifically, a story about new communications initiatives by the British Province of the Society of Jesus. Perhaps this sort of thing is a good response to the Catholic News Service article. I must admit being generally skeptical of attempts to reach people using new media, because of the danger that one will merely communicate information or fall into the consumerist trap of providing the self with whatever it wants – whenever it should happen to want it.
But the efforts of Peter Scally, SJ, to produce audio meditations in MP3 format are designed to provide guidance, not mere data – with pauses for reflection, no less – and begin with a “composition of place” so that the participant might first distance herself from the inattentiveness of everyday perceptions. They are meant to teach one how to pray, which involves the transformation of our desires, not their satiation. Furthermore, he is thinking about putting a version of the Spiritual Exercises on CD as a preparation for an actual retreat. Once more, this would be interactive, confronting the participant with the discernment of others, and meant to answer the rather urgent question, “What am I going to do with my life?”
Scally asks, “How can we take the spiritual resources that we have and make them available to a group of people who need them, beyond the limits of the chaplaincies, parishes, etc. which are too few to meet the needs of he great numbers of young people?” An interesting part of his question is the awareness of needing to go “beyond the limits,” both physical and conceptual, of institutional Catholic structures. Sometime ago, I quoted the theologian Phillip Sheldrake, who wrote, “If we are, in the words of [the Jesuit Michel] de Certeau, ‘to live the story of Jesus’ in the city in a prophetic way, we must learn how to be a community of hospitality that bonds together essentially for mission – that is, in order to build bridges and make links with people whom we see as different from ourselves, but also to fulfil a broader vocation as a catalyst of the good city.” Part of reaching young adults, then – with their skepticism and searching for spiritual authenticity – might mean that we must learn to become hospitable, to risk “finding God in all things,” even where we would not expect him.
Just stray thoughts. Here is part of Thomas Rochford’s article:
Peter Scally SJ is just starting up a new office focused on new communication initiatives. He spent the last two years doing parish work in London and has just begun to set up his new office which perhaps symbolically is closer to the front door and to the public than Clapson’s. Father Provincial David Smolira wants Scally to preserve a certain distance from regular province work so that he can develop new ways of using communications to reach out to people. His track record as co-developer with Fr. Alan McGuckian of Sacred Space augurs well for the success of this new job.The young Jesuit’s first initiative was to develop a new web site that offers audio meditations in MP3 format for people to listen to as they commute to and from work. visit the site and listen for yourself. The basic concept is a five-minute meditation that people would download into portable music devices and listen to on their way to or from work each day. The program would have places to pause and consider a suggestion before continuing to listen more. Scally is aware of the suggestive power of sound, as the early experience of radio proved. Sound effects can create a kind of “composition of place” at the start of a reading. There could be different voices between the narrator and the actors taking parts in the story. Scally plans to experiment with various formats to test for what is most effective: songs with words or just instrumental music? How culture-specific does the music have to be? (ie: would a Latino rhythm put off Anglo prayers, etc?).
This kind of prayer is almost like a guided meditation, with the narrator leading the listener step by step, and in effect teaching him or her how to pray.
Another initiative will create a site that assumes spiritual web surfers want a response from a web site, not just something to read. By interacting with some time of artificial intelligence and searching mode, visitors could tap into scripture readings that match their desires, somewhat like what happens with a real living director. First the user would input some data about himself, probably more than just a word for a keyword search. This might be like the movie search site where you pick some movies you like and the program suggested some others. Then the program would respond by suggesting a reading or more. The program would need to remember the interchange, both the initial input and the suggestions so that if the person comes back to the site, he is recognized and has the option of trying again with more data or of contacting someone from a bank of Jesuits and/or lay people who could then do an actual email exchange.
Scally’s is also considering putting a version of the Spiritual Exercises on CD. There is no point in redoing what Creighton U. has already done with its online version of the Exercises in Everyday Life. Rather Scally wants to address young adults, either those finishing university studies or those who have finished but are not yet in a life-long career commitment. The premise is that many people in this age group ask themselves the question, “What am I going to do with my life?” and that the Spiritual Exercises are a good tool for answering that from a faith perspective. So this would be an adaptation of the Exercises from the point of view of the young person.
Given that perspective, the CD or DVD could be considered as a sort of extended preparation days aid, more than as the retreat itself. During the time a user is going through the CD/DVD, they would have the option for reading interviews with other young people whose experience establishes the context of the retreat. Some of the people would also have video interviews that they could watch. The hope is that stories about the experience of others would illuminate the experience of the user. There would also be some prayers and meditations and some things that they could do, but the CD does not attempt to replace the retreat. Rather it would prepare someone for a retreat and invite them to continue deeper with an actual director who could help them pray.
Even if the CD does not work out as he initially anticipates, the question he raises is very important: “How can we take the spiritual resources that we have and make them available to a group of people who need them, beyond the limits of the chaplaincies, parishes, etc. which are too few to meet the needs of he great numbers of young people?”