Article by Gerald May (in August 2016 eNews)
In 1995, when the Internet was still fairly young, Shalem staff member Jerry May reflected on the spiritual possibilities of this new online space for himself and for Shalem. Here is an edited, shortened version of the original article that appeared in the Shalem News, Summer 1995.
I have been thinking for several years about the power of contemplative presence in this unexplored expanse of people-connections. What new meanings might it bring to spiritual community, guidance, and support? How might Shalem be invited to participate? Last winter I began exploring in earnest. At first I expected to have difficulty remaining prayerful and contemplative in such high-tech territory, but the sheer immensity and ever-freshness of the landscape made it easy. Like mountain forests or ocean depths, the online world carries a feeling of unknown wilderness, full of mystery and endless possibility. With a little grace, I find I am just given an open, prayerful attitude in such an atmosphere.
In this virtual environment I have found people gathering for dialogue and support concerning exactly the issues I was seeking: contemplative spirituality, mysticism, spiritual formation, the heart-journey with God. I have discovered that people in this setting often share more intimately and are more vulnerable with one another than in most face-to-face encounters. Some of us have chosen to call it “faceless intimacy.” It reminds me very much of the intimacy of silence in old-time Shalem groups where people didn’t know one another’s names or occupations yet were so deeply aware of shared intent and common support.
I also have found spiritual guidance happening in rapid, surprising, and profound ways online, both in group settings and one-to-one. There’s something about this new means of communicating that seems to give the Spirit extra freedom to fly, though perhaps, as in any wilderness, people are more open to Her surprises. Whatever it is, She certainly seems to enjoy it. More often than I can count, I have been moved to tears by people’s heart-sharings scrolling across my screen and deeply gratified that something I’ve contributed has touched them as well. People who have known me in other settings tell me I’m different online: more free, somehow more myself.
After a couple months of participation in dialogues and conferences, I was asked to become a section leader. It would take more of my time, but I didn’t need to struggle with discernment; a clear, unquestioning Yes flowed through my fingertips onto the keyboard. So now I lead a section on recovery spirituality and co-lead another on spiritual formation. I’ve made many new friends there and, pleasantly, run into quite a few old ones. I’ve been nourished and supported in ways too numerous to count, too mysterious to describe. And Shalem has a presence in this online space.
In this vast and surprising land I have begun to name and claim what it means–for me, at least–to be a contemplative presence in all my interactions with other people and the world. It means to live in conscious love with the here-and-now Divine, to trust God’s love no matter what, to know that God flows through us all continually, to believe that God so intimately pervades us and all creation that we can never, ever be really abandoned. It is to realize that the actual presence of Christ speaks to me through your mouth, sees you with my eyes; that there is no place, no creature, and no thing on earth or in the heavens that is not filled with Divine Presence. And it is to remember and be reminded that every moment of life is exquisitely precious, just as it is.
I know so little in this online world, which reminds me of how little I truly know anywhere. There is beautiful grace in this unknowing, a magnificent freedom birthed from mystery, the flowing compassion and charity that springs from simple attentiveness and availability. In this contemplative freedom I have no “how to’s,” no idea of what is helpful or even what to do next. What comes instead is a simple interior gift: a trusting, open, courageous presence of willingness.
In the wilds of this virtual landscape, as in the wilds of forests and mountains, I feel the free energy of contemplative presence, openly and unabashedly enjoying the endless flow of life divine, willing to laugh and cry, to be still and to dance, to be moved in any way and to whatever end the Spirit of God desires. That’s how I want to be–and hope Shalem will be–in cyberspace and physical space, in inner space or outer space, wherever we find ourselves.