In these days of gathering on Zoom — with or without the chips — Lyndsey offers some practical and graceful thoughts on how we can show up for each other. In today’s post she invites us to pray by attending to the Holy even while gathering in virtual space. Don’t miss her download, “Co-Creating a Prayer for Lent.” What splendid Lenten gifts!
By Lyndsey Medford
A group of my seminary friends got together each year when we were in school to hold short Advent prayer and worship service at each other’s homes. We shared a leisurely meal, laughter, and candlelight, and a simple 20-30 minute time. We shared how Advent intersected with our lives and prayed together—all amidst the chaos and anxiety of finals.
We’ve stayed in touch over the last five years or so, but 2020 was the first time we’ve repeated our tradition from afar. Of course there was no food, wine, or hand holding, but I was honestly surprised how similarly I felt coziness, care, and the presence of the Holy. The experience reminded me that we really can hold sacred space for one another over the dreaded Zoom.
A few of us contributed to the gathering. For my part, I wrote a prayer in a kind of “mad lib” format, where everyone could contribute their own feelings and experiences to the final written prayer we shared. It turned out to be deeply meaningful to all of us. It’s a format that actually works better over Zoom than in person, as the chat feature allows everyone to instantaneously submit their answers in private.
Since then, I’ve pondered and played more with prayer over Zoom, and I am hosting prayer and care gatherings for Lent on the platform. I’ve discovered some of our Zoom fatigue and frustration is due to the space itself, but some of it also comes from the stress and strain of trying to replicate in-person events via a digital platform. What happens if we honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of digital spaces and reimagine our gatherings from scratch? It might sound exhausting, but it can also encourage us to embrace play and stripped-down simplicity.
Sacred Digital Space
Here are a few things I’ve learned about creating sacred digital space:
- Clarity is kind, also known as: people want to be told what to do. In some ways, digital gatherings can require even more intentional planning than in-person. Be kind to your attendees (and yourself!) by keeping them short and well-structured.
- Start with the purpose of the gathering or the needs represented in the room, and see if any of them match well with the resources available. For example, breakout rooms and chat features offer opportunities for connection that might be harder to coordinate or to access in an in-person gathering. Get creative with them!
- One reason Zoom is tiring is that being “on camera” in two dimensions can make people feel like they must be performing. There are probably plenty of activities or questions you can ask to remind people they’re allowed and encouraged to show up honestly, with all their exhaustion, grief, weirdness, and joy; but the most important is to lead by example. Let people know how you really are.
- In prayer, don’t be afraid of silence. Our friends and neighbors need spaciousness and rest more than they need the “right” words.
- Zoom also drains our resources because it creates a feeling of being in two places at once: you’re both in your own house with your family and in floating digital space with a group of others. Offering a centering moment before a traditional/formal prayer can allow everyone to gently return to their own bodies and surroundings after being mentally and socially “on.” I’ll often say “God is near to us in our breath” or invite people to place their hands over their hearts for a few breaths of silence.
— Three Minute Ministry Mentor (@3MinuteMin) February 19, 2021
Creating the prayer can be simple. Let the group know that you’re going to write a prayer together, and invite them to breathe and enjoy the silence (or music you find to play) as you’re gathering the submissions. The simplest way to do this is to print out the PDF (see below) so you can copy responses directly into the body of the prayer.
Direct the group’s attention to the chat box to send you their answers to each prompt in a private chat—this will minimize confusion, allow each person to focus on their own answer, streamline the process for you, and help people tune in to listen to the final prayer.
Once you’ve received answers from as many people as you need, read the next prompt to the group, so they can answer while you’re writing down the answers to the previous prompt. If you have space, you can certainly include your own answers, as well.
When you’ve gone through the four prompts, you’ll have a co-written prayer to read out loud, slowly, to the group.
This prayer is formatted to include six answers for each prompt. It can be used for a small group or family gathering of two or more, or for a large group, with the understanding that all submissions can’t be included—just choose some of them. Depending on how quickly everyone writes, allot fifteen to twenty minutes to this activity.
Participants are likely to ask for a copy of the final product!
Download the PDF to start planning your prayer experience: