Growing My Spirituality & Work on the Web
by Anna Bowness-Park
At times, it can seem like the internet and spirituality are in opposition to one other. Often loud, explicit and negative, the Web sometimes feels like an uninvited noisy guest who refuses to leave. Additionally, there is the problem many of us feel that managing a blog or social media consumes unwarranted amounts of our precious time. So we resist the pressure to join in more deeply – and yet feel that maybe we should.
But does it really have to be only that perspective? Is there a way the two can work together to help us grow our spirituality and our work?
Some wisdom that helped me...
Before I began using the internet to communicate, my son Stuart gave me a helpful perspective. He works in the tech industry and has always been a proponent of social media. However, he sees it very differently than many people do. “It’s just a tool, mum. Figure out which tool suits your needs and then learn to use it effectively.” That resonated with me. We have a garage full of tools – and each one has a specific use, from lawnmowers to saws to hammers.
So I decided to begin with one tool: a personal Facebook page. I wanted to use it to catch up with friends and family. To my surprise, I not only found enjoyment in their posts, but it connected me with people I had not seen in more than a decade. For me, it felt like a safe and supportive place where we could share our joys, sadnesses and hopes. What’s more, viewing it as a tool stopped it from overwhelming me. I was quite happy to not view it for a day or two – or maybe view it frequently, if interesting things were happening there.
One thing I did not share, however, was my spiritual writings. It did not feel like the right place. Many of my friends are atheist, or at best agnostic. And I worried they might feel I was imposing on them. Still wanting to write about my faith and spiritual learning, I knew I needed to find a different path through the jungle of social media platforms to do this.
Proposing what I wanted to see
That new path began with a simple idea – an idea to join with other spiritual and religious thinkers in my community, who also yearned for a larger audience. Traditionally, news editors have not been particularly receptive to publishing spiritual or religious columns, so sharing our ideas is often fraught with rejection. But what if we presented ourselves as a team?
Encouraged by a new venture of the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper to host community blogs, I visited their online editor to discuss the idea of a blog for spiritual conversations, written by different spiritual thinkers. The editors loved it – and from that one meeting, Spiritually Speaking was born. Each week, we posted two articles on different topics. And very quickly, the blog became a hit.
Six months after launch, the newspaper liked it so much they created a weekly religion page in their print edition, and invited us to write a column for it. (This was at a time when many other papers were shutting down their religion pages.) Seven years later, with 700 online and print articles now behind us, our venture continues to thrive today.
“How do I grow this?”
With the success of Spiritually Speaking, my next question was: “How do we share these ideas outside of just Victoria, B.C.?” I knew I needed another social media tool or two to do this.
The next one I chose was Twitter. Notoriously confusing, Twitter can also be overwhelming. It seemed to me to be a noisy marketplace for just about anything and everything. So how was I going to find a path through all that for our blog to be noticed? This happened slowly – one could say organically, holistically. There was no pushing or fretting. I simply began using it to share articles from Spiritually Speaking, as well as other wonderful articles I found on Twitter and elsewhere.
In the process, I had to understand things like “twitter handles, hashtags, lists and faves.” Those are just the details of learning how to use any new tool. But more importantly, I became interested in the people I connected with on it -- and learned more about them as I read their blogs and shared their articles.
One of them, an Anglican minister in a tiny parish in southwest England, contacted me because he was moving to Victoria to be rector of a parish church here. He has now become one of our writers for Spiritually Speaking. Another Twitter user wrote such interesting articles, about her work as a hospital chaplain, that I asked to interview her for an article I was writing. Another, a Jewish artist who creates sacred spaces in hospitals, also agreed to an interview for our blog.
Looking back, what really unlocked the power of Twitter for me was when I discovered how to find or hone in on what was of most interest to me. But I’ll leave that for a future article...
I have since gone on to use other social media tools as well. This includes a blog I wrote for the Vancouver Sun newspaper for two years (until they recently removed their blogs site). Then I plunged into an even wider pool by having articles accepted on a site within “Project Eve,” a large American site. I also started another Facebook page, specifically for my spiritual work and writing, as well as an online blog of my own.
For me, it’s about Love
After close to 10 years on social media, what I’ve realized is that it’s really all about love. I love connecting with people. I love reading their ideas and learning from each article. I also love sharing their ideas with others. The tools I use to do this are social media sites. They have opened wonderful doors of enquiry for me; and using them has made me a better writer.
What I’ve also learned is that when we open our hearts to share ideas with others, they share back. As a result, we connect, we learn. And that is really what “social media” is all about.
For me, the internet and spirituality are not contradictory or in opposition. They are actually mutually supportive. Rather than fearing or resisting the Web, I have come to see it as a tool that enables us to love more universally, and more expansively. It has allowed me to share my ideas widely, and learn from thousands of others I would never have ‘met’ without it.
I believe that the world needs us to love big right now – and this is one way I have discovered to do that, one very small step at a time.
Anna Bowness-Park writes about spirituality and the potential for experiencing its healing effect on our every day lives from her experience as a Christian Science practitioner. She also manages Spiritually Speaking, an interfaith blog hosted on the Victoria Times Colonist website. You can contact her on her website at http://anna-bownesspark.ca