Thinking Faith 2020:

Switch Off and Plug into God!

The Lord has a sense of humour!

This year’s Thinking Faith week was planned as a walking week

with sessions on the theme of ‘Switch Off and Plug into God’. It turned out to be a long-distance gathering, via ZOOM. But the Lord also writes straight with crooked lines, and the event turned out to be marvellously rich, interesting and enjoyable.

We began each morning with a talk: Br Sam Burke OP on ‘Embracing Silence’, Sr Margaret A. on ‘Technology and Technocracy’, Br Sam and Sr Margaret jointly on ‘Temperance and Digital Minimalism’, Dom Edmund Burke OSB, zoomed in from Rome, on ‘Ways of Praying’, Fr Richard Finn OP on ‘The Simple Life in the Early Church’, and Martina Rensen on ‘Faith, Isolation and Digitalisation’ (reflecting in particular on the experience of churches during COVID). 

Then we were free during the day for a walk or other activities, and were given a Scriptural passage, a theme and a task for each day. In the evening, we reconvened on zoom to share how the day had gone and to ponder its theme more deeply together. 

The format worked extremely well.

It gave us space to chew over the talks and the themes, and the tasks turned out to be powerful and thought-provoking, and excellent for slowing us down. Br Sam, for example, simply asked us to write a letter as a surprise for someone, to gift them a lift, and maybe share some spiritual thoughts. Many of the people in the group had not written a real letter for years, and found the process of taking time and planning its content both meditative and rewarding. The recipients were also delighted, according to reports! Martina offered a very challenging task: to read Psalm 139 (‘O Lord, you search me and you know me’), replacing the word ‘Lord’ with ‘Google’. This brought hope to devastating effect the way in which the virtual technology can become a quasi-omniscient controller of our lives. Fr Richard invited us to ponder two paintings by Giotto of St Anthony the Hermit, and provided a rich commentary himself. After Fr Edmund’s session we practised ways of praying, and after Sr Margaret’s made an effort to switch off all technologies and notice when and why we were missing them.

The combination of space during the day and the format of zoom seemed to facilitate conversations to which everyone felt able to contribute, equally and creatively. Zoom also allowed some people to join us who would not have been able to be on the week as originally planned. Obviously, we love to meet face-to-face, but we were delighted to find that our friendship and mutual support could also be genuinely deepened in this way. The group plan to continue with mini-retreats in Advent and Lent. 

For prayers, those who wished joined the Edinburgh Dominicans for Morning Prayer on zoom, and we shared with the Edinburgh students for Night Prayer, organised and facilitated by Benedicta. Perhaps the biggest highlight of all was also liturgical: the ordination of (now) Fr Sam in Edinburgh Cathedral on the final morning of the week. Many congratulations to him, and prayers for a long and happy ministry.

Very many thanks to all involved, especially our speakers and co-organisers, and a special thanks to Benedicta, our techno-wizard, for giving so generously of her time and skill.