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Praying the Online Psalms
The Psalms stand at the apex of Christian spirituality, used by the religious of every generation to further their journey with the Lord.
And as classics of ancient literature, the Psalms should be translated afresh for every generation, wrote British poet Donald Davie, in the introduction to his collection, The Psalms in English.
But what about the internet generation – what sort of translation is appropriate for the growing number of people who respond best to images and feelings? Can we transmit the spirituality of the Psalms online? Can we transmit spirituality online?
For a tentative answer to the last question, take a look at this brilliant presentation of Zen meditation, developed (as far as I can see) by the super-creative Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. Through sound, image, humour and a few words, it really does manage to impart a brief taste of Zen.
The Beliefnet religious site has attempted something similar. Included among its offerings is an audio-visual devotional on Psalm 23. A narrator recites the psalm, to the background sounds of chanting and bells, while the words flow onto the screen along with a succession of dreamy images.
It’s pretty, but it didn’t do a lot for me. Though it’s possibly not aimed at 53-year-olds. Certainly it lacks the humour and feeling of the Zen presentation, and at less than two minutes in length it’s hardly more than a diversion for anyone looking for some heavy-duty spirituality.
Beliefnet also offers Learning to Sing the Psalms, a series of practical lectures from author and retreat leader Cynthia Bourgeault. This is more like it. There are lessons on the role of the Psalms in the life of the church and guidance on how to incorporate psalmody into your own spiritual walk. Sound clips complement the teaching, and there is advice on where to go for further information. This is an excellent resource for the spiritual seeker.
The Barna Research Group forecasts that “within this decade as many as 50 million individuals may rely solely upon the internet to provide all of their faith-based experiences”. It’s a sobering thought, particularly for those of us in the evangelical stream of Christianity who are concerned about outreach.
What sort of spiritual lives will these 50 million enjoy? It’s a question the church has barely started to ask.
December 2nd, 2002