Technology habits and the connections that really matter

Over the past five years, I have gradually become attached to a laptop. A couple of months ago, I reluctantly got a smart phone. Of course I know I am not all-that-strange for these personal facts, but as one who prefers to be more centered on my spiritual life and my relationship with God than on things, I actually feel ashamed to admit that I spend most of my time interacting with machines.

Of course, the technology can aid me in my connecting to God and neighbor, right? It’s a tool I get to control how I want, right? It doesn’t control me, does it?

Well, a quick assessment of my day reveals that I do, in fact, use technology to connect with God and serve others. I use the Daily Catholic and CRS Rice Bowl apps for prayer. I frequently listen to hymns and read Scripture reflections online. And, I certainly use technology for acts of service and activism and help moderate a Facebook group called The Vocation Discerners (which I founded years ago.) I certainly stay in touch with my dearest friends and family through email, Twitter, Facebook, texting, and even Instagram. Of course my ministry as a writer here and elsewhere requires technology too. These are not bad things!

Still, I am not proud of how much of my life is consumed by technology usage. In this season of Lent, a season that invites consciousness and conversion, I’m trying to honor my cravings for less screen time and more soul-centered time. This focus is causing a clearer portrait of the roots of my struggle to come into view.

A writer I greatly admire, Sara Zarr, recently wrote a reflection of her Internet history of the past twenty years. In the piece, she shares how she began this Lent with the intention of tracking (and possibly changing) her Internet habits. She acknowledges how using it has its pros and cons, and much of her patterns of usage are ultimately rooted in the core human need to connect, to relate. As for her Lenten intentions and possibly changing those patterns, she states “it turned out Lent … happened to be a time where I got to see and experience and lots of reminders of why I wanted to change it in the first place.”

I really appreciate Sara’s honesty about her tendency to use the Internet compulsively. She said it, but I’ve experienced it too: “It is the easiest, fastest way to relieve a moment of loneliness, to procrastinate, to fill a void, to get an ego hit, a dopamine rush, approval…I mean, we all know how that works. It’s hard to turn off and look away.”  Whoa, doesn’t she just name exactly what continues to drive us all online? Certainly, much of the shame and guilt I feel about my own technology usage is due to the things that drive me into it—not because of the fact that I am using technology itself.

Source: Pandodaily.wordpress.com

Spirit is involved in all of this. God is with us in our loneliness, in our habits of avoidance, in our needs for approval and connection. Spirit invites us into holiness and health, not disappointment or frustration. If we let the tools of technology lead us to the right places of prayer and communion, we can meet God, deepen our relationships, and serve others. But, if our human weakness and its sinful nature gets the best of us, we can lose control and technology can become self-serving or even an addiction.

Much of what’s at work is our living in a bit of gap. There’s a gap between our preferred behaviors and our actual behaviors. We can find God in this gap and discover ways to serve others, live in community, to share and participate. That’s what living the Gospel is all about.

It’s part of the reason why the Time article about the “sharing economy” fascinates me so much. I couldn’t help but to think about Jesus’ mission when I read about how many people are giving of their time and resources in order to connect with their neighbors or complete strangers (and yes, at times, to earn a bit of money) by sharing their car, their stuff and their meals. Our Gospel living is about connecting, relating and serving. It’s about communion and building community. It’s about willing the good of the other. If technology helps us with that, then it indeed can be a tool used for God’s purposes.

As we ponder the signs of this time, such as what is occurring in ecology, I believe that technology usage demands our attention. On this topic Ilia Delio writes, “…We humans are becoming something new with technology. Technology is evoking new patterns of relatedness which now include an artificial device. Hence, we need an operative definition of IT as ‘intentional technology.'”

As it turns out I need not be ashamed about my technology habits, as I’m united with many in my dilemmas. Instead, I can heed the invitation of this Lenten season and let my increased consciousness influence my choices. By the grace of God, I can change and become more intentional in my use of technology. With more intentionality I shall gain more freedom. By the grace of God, we all will.

a shoe story

One of my core faith principles is that God will provide for all our needs.  Recently, a little sisterly community experience re-convinced me of this.

Last week I renewed my vows. It was a beautiful, joyous event.  Several sisters gathered in our chapel, Mary of the Angels, for Taize’ prayer and meditation Friday night. After a prolonged period of silence I stood up and professed to “live poverty, obedience and consecrated celibacy in community for one year, according to the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis and the Constitutions of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.”

“Sister Julia’s Vow Renewal” Photo by Nancy Chapman

Getting ready for this exciting event required a lot preparation for me. In addition to readying my heart and mind with a lot of prayer and contemplation, I also had to get my outward self ready. I got a new haircut and a nice new dress, but then I began to fuss about what to put on my feet.

As a Franciscan Sister and a disciple of Jesus, I don’t have really have that many possessions. Living simply is really important to me and I don’t like to have more than I need.  In fact, for several years I have been very content with having only one pair of multipurpose sandals.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  Could I wear my dirty, worn out Chacos® for the special occasion? Could I go bare foot?  Should I just wear my wintry dress shoes or look for a new pair of dressy, brown sandals that I could also wear for teaching and other occasions?  No matter what, I knew that I didn’t want to spend much money or contribute anymore to the destruction of God’s creation by being a consumer.

I hemmed and hawed a while and decided that if it was God’s will for me to wear nice shoes for my vow ceremony then God would provide. This seemed like a safe way to think about it, although in order to receive guidance and gifts from God I need to be open, pay attention and do a bit of work.  To have what God wants us to have, it seems we must be willing to seek.

Once I decided that I was okay with having a pair of new sandals, I wondered how to find them. First, I began checking out the feet of all my sisters, hoping to see a pair I might borrow. I went to Goodwill and studied their shoe options with no luck.  I asked the sister in charge of our community clothing exchange if she knew of a pair that had been donated and might serve my purpose. I looked at everything she had in the closet with no luck.

Then I started asking sisters what they thought I should do. Several of them assured me that it was appropriate and acceptable to buy brand new shoes.  I didn’t like the idea, but I was trusting in the wisdom of my elder sisters.  So, I asked Sisters Kathy and Mary Ellen, who I live with, if they wanted to help me shoe shop. With a hope and prayer we went out to the stores and quickly became overwhelmed with options–most were completely impractical and just too trendy. Eventually, we realized that it is hard to buy sandals this time of year because they are all so picked over.

Sisters Kathy and Mary Ellen were being very patient and helpful.  I was starting to feel a little bit of unnecessary, goofy guilt that they had been putting up with my picky indecisiveness for over an hour. Strangely, I started to use that guilt feeling as my guidance.  After spending so much time and energy I didn’t feel like I should leave empty-handed or disappoint the other sisters, so I bought a really dressy pair and home we went.  I still felt unhappy about the new shoes or the price but convinced myself I should make them work.  (Duh! I know and believe that when we “should” too much, we just get stuck in a big pile of “should” and it really stinks!)

Later that night after prayer in our house, the three of us told Sister Laurie about our shoe store adventures. I said I was concerned for the fact that I have hurt my ankles every time I have tried to wear heals, but if I practiced walking in them I’d be fine. I didn’t admit that I chose to buy the shoes for the wrong reasons, but I think I knew it.

For practice, I put them on and tried walking up the stairs. It was awkward–I wasn’t smiling and my stomach even felt weird. I was trying to be a good sport.  Sister Laurie was tuned into me.

She took the shoes off her feet and said “Here, try these.”

I did. I hadn’t noticed her shoes before. They were pretty much exactly what I’d been looking for and fit perfectly. “Wow. What size are they?!”

“Seven and a half.  Keep them.”  she offered.

“What?! Just for Friday? I can give them back to you after the vows.”

“No. Keep them for good. They’re yours. I don’t need them.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” I said, delighted and relieved. I could take the other shoes back to the store and, after all, God provided just the way I was hoping for.

I am so thankful for my new shoes and for the generous, sisterly love I experienced as I prepared for my vow day, on my vow day, and everyday in this wonderful Franciscan community. I am thankful for all the simple lessons I learned through the experience of getting these new shoes. Wow–thanks be to God! Amen.

Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse,
knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you,
may you excel in this gracious act also.
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Not that others should have relief while you are burdened,
but that as a matter of equality
your abundance at the present time should supply their needs,
so that their abundance may also supply your needs,
that there may be equality.
As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.     -2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15

loving Love

I have always loved Valentine’s Day.  We don’t tell people we love them often enough and it’s our Christian message and way.  I love celebrating love and sharing it.   Love is pretty much my favorite thing. Because, well, God is totally my favorite thing.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. 1 John 4:8-12

Love is God.  The union of Love is the force of the holy.  Popes write and teach all about it, saints marvel in it, lovers dwell in it. It is the duty of all the Christians to share it.  When we love others, we help them to get to know God.

I hope that my ministry is all about love.  I hope that I provide a loving presence to all who I meet.  I pray that all people will really know the power of the greatness of God love- Agape Love– and be made more whole.  I hope I help others understand what that means.

One of my students randomly approached me recently and asked me to tell him three of my main religious beliefs. It was an really profound and interesting question.  I believe so many things so I didn’t really know what to say.  The first thing I said, though, is that I believe God is love and when we experience love, we experience God.  Love really is the foundation of my faith.

The challenge is that love is really hard work.  Living the Gospel means we love everyone, no matter what. It means we are willing to care for those who seem most broken, dirty, smelly and diseased.  We end up putting our lives on the line, all for the love of God and neighbor.

As Dorothy Day showed us, a life of love means we join others in soup lines and joyfully break bread with the hurting, trusting in the healing power of union.  As we share, care, create and renew the face of the earth, we build the Kingdom of God.

Little by little, Love changes the world.  The good news is that the changing is God’s work- we just cooperate with God’s ways, by sharing the love we have known.  It’s pretty awesome to give what we have been blessed with, a lot of Divine Love.  Have fun celebrating Love today! God loves you and so do I! Happy St. Valentine’s Day! Love, Julia

"love light" by Julia Walsh, FSPA

when eating bites

Bad news: people are starving to death; 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes.

Good news: God has mercy and God is helping us!  We are being preserved in spite of famine, scripture says.

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
(Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)

I am a great lover of food.  Much of my life has been centered around it.  I grew up in a farming community and family.   I knew how to pull weeds before I knew how to read.  I knew how to bake and cook before I knew how to drive.  I understood how to milk animals before I knew how to type.

Today my younger sister and her husband are organic farmers.   My parents and my brother now own and run a world famous restaurant, in the middle of nowhere. But I live in the city, away from the family food business.  I tend to go grocery shopping, read cookbooks and then invent and share new culinary creations for fun.  Plus, I love gardening; when work is really difficult at the high school I fantasize about giving it all up and becoming a gardener or a baker.

Food is such a big deal to me that I entered a Eucharistic-centered community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, before I was 25.  We’ve been adoring Jesus as Eucharist for over 133 years and it is very rad.

Obviously I am not unique because my life is centered around food. It is for all of us.  God designed it that way on purpose. It’s sacramental. It’s unifying. It’s life-giving. It’s essential.  I’m grateful.

Food is also oppressive.  The systems that control our consumption cause people to starve while others throw food away.  In the United States, we keep getting fatter while the rest of the world riots and dies because of food costs.  I wrote a bit about this for a Mexican food blog last week. The reasons why our food problems are so severe are complicated, economical and political.

As we gain awareness of the truth, we tend to be converted.  The freedom paradoxically requires us to be mindful and responsible.  It’s an act of solidarity and community.  Since food unites us, when any person in the body of Christ- in humanity- is suffering, we all are suffering.  For Lent this year I am working hard to simplify my diet, trying to fast, praying for those that are hungry and advocating for systemic justice.

This week at the high school I am leading two big events. Please pray for me and my students!  On Wednesday my seniors are hosting a Peace and Justice Fair. They’ve analyzed complex social problems and will now try to inform the community and inspire others to meaningful social action.   On Friday, we are hosting a Food Fast. The students will not eat for 24 hours, but still be very busy, as an act of solidarity and prayer for people who frequently go 24 hours without eating but keep working hard. I have games and activities planned to teach about global hunger and the students will engage in acts of service.

It’s really not that hard to make a difference.  Like my students, you can play games at FreeRice.com and donate rice to the UN WFP. You can click (and shop for Fair Trade goods) at The Hunger Site and donate 1.1 cups of food.  You can learn about the challenges of farming and survival in the developing countries by playing a game here. And, you can learn about living in poverty in the United States by playing a game here.

There are several other meaningful social actions that really make a difference.  You can literally buy an animal for a community in poverty through the Heifer Project. And, of course, you can pray, fast, give, advocate, and try out simple recipes through the Catholic Relief Services rice bowl campaign.

Together, we fast with hope and trust that our merciful God is leading us through the messy famines and injustices.  As I eat, I believe that the nourishment shall wake us all up to the heavy truth that we already have enough, we just need to learn how to share.  This sharing is the simple way that Jesus taught us, it is the way of freedom.

 

Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.