Friday, March 12, 2010


A small discipline in Second Life spiritual life

One of the things we are confronted with in the modern world, but especially when we are online, is aggressive multitasking.

Especially when we are trying to turn our hearts and thoughts toward God in prayer, it is easy to let distractions turn us aside from what we are doing.

In "real world" communal prayer, we have others around us - so we are more likely to turn off cell phones, refrain from standing up and doing something else, etc. etc..

When we pray together online, it is all the easier to be inauthentic.

Some tips for praying online, which amount to a bit of "discipline" one can hold one's self to:

1) When I am praying with others, if I have to leave my seat, or need to tend to something else, like an instant message, e-mail, etc. etc.: I will:
- If I am kneeling, I will stand up and leave the gathering, just as I would leave if I need to run to the toilet, etc. etc., when I am in a "real life" gathering. I will inform the others present that I will be back in just a moment - like, "brb, 1 minute," "brb 5 minutes."

This is a matter of courtesy to the others, and keeps us accountable, and "really there." There are cases where it's understandable that someone wants to be doing something else during a Bible study, but leave the screen open to watch and see what is happening when one is able to. But this unfortunately can lead to the side effects of the gathering becoming less "real" - sometimes your online representation will be a real, responsive "you" - at others, it will simply be a zombie placemarker, unresponsive, with "you" being somewhere else.

For the meeting to be "real", it needs to have this dimension of reality at least: that those who represent themselves as present, are present.

If you need to be doing other things but wish to somehow have the prayer meeting "broadcasted" to you, do something to indicate that you "aren't really there." Change your screen name to Myname-AFK or your status - if you are in a three-dimensional setting, place your avatar somewhere, where it's obvious that you aren't a full participant.

If you do have something to say during the meeting, in moments you are able to turn your attention back to prayer, you can either change your status at the moments that you really are present, or occupied with prayer, back to a more "active" looking status, or you can

2) When I am praying alone [in a 3D virtual world setting, like Second Life], I will keep the discipline of only kneeling when I am actually praying, or trying to pray; if I have to answer an instant message, or get up from my seat, I will stand up and leave the chapel.

This one seems less obvious. There are no other people present that you aren't responding to.

Years ago, when I was discussing problems sleeping with a friend, my friend told me that he only lies in bed, if he really intends to sleep. He never gets in bed just to rest, or for any other purpose.

The reason was: places, and the positions we take, are very important in creating associations, and even making things possible for us. My friend found that the more he associated lying down in his bed with sleeping, the more likely he was to actually sleep, when he was lying down in his bed.

I have found something similar to be the case with prayer in Second Life. I frequently kneel. But sometimes, I kneel to begin praying, and then am distracted by something, and begin doing something else. After finishing the other task, I turn back, and there is my avatar, still kneeling, as if I had never been away.

It may be rather "nice" to think that the avatar was still there kneeling, though the "real me" was answering an instant message - and that somehow, this avatar was perhaps "praying" for me.

We should remember though that a strong part of the Second Life experience is the association of our avatars with what we are really doing, and who, in some sense, we really are. This means that if I then "dissociate" my real life activity from what my avatar is doing, in order to leave my avatar praying - I will no longer associate my real life behavior of prayer with kneeling when I am in Second Life. God cares about our "real" prayers, and not about the presence of some avatar which we imagine to be praying. Real people pray - avatars do not.

So keep kneeling in Second Life, and visiting a chapel, associated with real, genuine prayer. Dissociate it as much as you can from roleplay or fantasy. We do not serve a roleplay God or a fantasy God; and God does not want our imagined selves petitioning, praising, and serving Him, but our real selves. You will find that when you are tempted to be distracted, you will be better fit to resist the distraction if you first require of yourself that you get up from kneeling and leave the chapel.


In order to accommodate this, it probably makes sense to set things up in an appropriate way. E.g., I've put down a couple of chairs at the back of the chapel, in case people are praying, but at one moment, someone needs to leave for a few minutes, or wishes to continue to "hear" the prayers, while doing something else. It's important that we let people do what they need to do without judging them, and allow them to gracefully leave if they need to, without having to apologize excessively.