Online retreats gather seekers

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) notes the growth of online retreats:

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn is a self-described “church nerd.” You could say she is something of an Internet one, too. A blogger for six years, she currently writes for three faith-related blogs — one for her own parish, one for the parish where she works as the office manager and one for the Times Union newspaper in Albany, N.Y.

…when Szpylczyn heard about a retreat called “Hurry Up and Slow Down” last fall, she knew it would be a balm to her frazzled spirit. But surprisingly, this reflective respite did not require a fast from technology. On the contrary: It required it.

Welcome to the next generation of spiritual sustenance: online retreats. No need to get away to a retreat center, eat cafeteria food or get up at the crack of dawn for morning prayer. Now guided prayers or reflections from famous retreat directors, community with other retreatants, and even personal communication with a spiritual director are just a keyboard (or touchscreen) away.

“Hurry Up and Slow Down” was the first online retreat offered by Jane Redmont, who has worked in campus, urban and parish ministries in Catholic and Episcopal communities. She also offered an online retreat in Advent and is hosting one on Thomas Merton for Lent this year. The six-week “Hurry Up and Slow Down” retreat, which will be repeated again this spring, featured readings, practices and spiritual exercises — as well as a closed blog accessible only to fellow retreatants.

Providing a retreat-like experience for those who couldn’t afford the time or expense of an actual getaway is motivating an increasing number of individuals and organizations to offer online options. But is the Internet really compatible with spiritual growth? Isn’t social media something Catholics should be giving up for Lent? “Well, at some point in order to connect with God you have to disconnect. You can’t have your face stuck in your iPad all day,” said Jesuit Fr. James Martin, whose new e-retreat, “Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer,” explicitly directs participants at some points to put down their e-readers and pray.

An online retreat can be just as deep and meaningful as an on-the-ground one — maybe even more so, said Christine Valters Paintner, a Benedictine oblate, author and the “online abbess” at the website “Abbey of the Arts,” which offers e-courses, podcasts, an email newsletter and now e-retreats. Her first two online retreats were “Way of the Monk” and “Photography as a Contemplative Practice.

Click here to find a list of links and retreats.

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