Note: This is an article from much earlier in the Web's history, and many of the links no longer work and have been removed. However, the text and it's implications are still valid for today.
Walking the Cyberspace Labyrinth
This is a talk that I gave at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford, CT on the spiritual dimensions of the World Wide Web. I think the Web has profound implications for our spiritual lives. Take the walk with me and see if you agree. Feel free to email me with your comments. May you have a rewarding journey. Scott Thumma.
Around and around I walk, getting nowhere and everywhere. A journey that takes me from beginning to end. Both starting and ending point are the same, and yet not the same. For in the walking I am changed. This journey takes me to unknown places, bumping shoulders with strangers, letting go of distractive passions, fearing the dizzying darkness, struggling with the spiraling boundaries set ages ago, and reaching the Center - "illumination" - only to be forced to turn and retrace my steps. I turn and begin again, knowing well that I will experience anew the fears and exhilarations this walk holds.
For those who haven't walked a labyrinth the exercise may seem silly. This was my perspective, I confess, until I walked its concentric circles. Like all spiritual disciplines, you cannot understand their power until you perform the exercises. You always finish somewhat transformed. You see things differently. Your perspective is expanded. You learn something new about yourself, others, and God.
At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, exploring sites on the World Wide Web, especially religious ones, can have a similar spiritual affect. It can be seen as more than just a silly spiral of computers, cables and hyperlinks. The discipline of exploring the Internet can take on a spiritual dimension. By implying that the Internet can "take on" a spiritual reality I am acknowledging its overtly secular, and at times pornographic, reality. Just as fasting has been crassly used for weight loss or meditation for stress relief, so too the Web is obviously a modern cyber-Sodom and Gomorrah. Let me also emphasize that I am not seriously suggesting that the exploration of the Internet is identical to treading prayerfully upon the centuries old spiritual tool.
However, counter to the superficial leisure images conjured up in the common terms for exploring the Web such as "surfing" and "cruising" or the utilitarian phrases like "mining" or "searching." The exploration of the riches of the Internet can be understood, at least at times, in the ancient terms of "spiritual journey", "quest", and even "pilgrimage." Before I continue this argument, though, let us hyperlink to my evidence - the various ways the web is used by religions, by religious persons, and in support of a religious life. In following this path I've set, I hope you come to agree that this journey has a spiritual dimension. With that, let us turn to the first commonality of spiritual disciplines and Web exploration.
They Inform Us
An often unintended consequence of engaging in any spiritual discipline, whether it be fasting, walking the labyrinth or practicing meditation, is that we gain new information about the physical, historical, and emotional reality of both our internal and the external world. Likewise, the web can, most significantly, enrich us as people of faith by keeping us informed about our world and those to whom we have a mission. If God works in and through the earthly events, then the more informed we are the better we can see and respond to God's actions in the world. It was the Christian theologian Karl Barth who suggested that we carry a "Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." The modern equivalent of Barth's 1930's newspaper is the Internet. The Web provides us with an unimaginable home library and religious resource tool. By exploring this electronic archive we become better informed about who we are globally as the people of God.
The most immediate informational mechanism on the Web is the electronic newspaper and the news service:
The New York Times on the Web
NPR Online- National Public Radio
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly
This informative task is also aided by the countless online encyclopedias, libraries, and Religious Studies information centers.
Library of Congress Home
UCSD Libraries' Reference Shelf
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Voice of the Shuttle Religious Studies Page
A Guide to the Best Religious Studies
Resources on the Internet
Religious Studies Web Guide
Concise Dictionary of Religion
The Episcopal Book Resource Center
Another source of information are the multiple civic and governmental sites which allow us to become better citizens by seeing into and engaging in the inner workings of our political system.
Federal Government Resources on the Web
THOMAS -- U.S. Congress on the Internet
PBS The Point - U.S. Constitution
Of course, the web also provides us access to sacred information, from the most ancient scraps of the dead sea scrolls,
Dead Sea Scrolls - Qumran Library
Dead Sea -- Psalms Scroll
Bible Revised Standard Version
Bible Gateway - Search the Bible in Nine
Languages and Multiple Bible Versions
and the writings of early church theologians,
Augustine of Hippo - The Confessions
Anselm - On the Existence of God
St. Clement - Epistle to the Corinthians
Peter Abelard - Historia Calamitatum
St. Irenaeus of Lyons - Adversus Haereses
to prayer books,
Book of Common Prayer
The Ecole Initiative -- Early Church
Medieval Manuscript Leaves
Collection of Russian icons
About the Rule of Saint Benedict
Franciscan Web Page
as well as to the most contemporary religious speculation in online journals and
Journal of Southern Religion
Whosoever An Online Magazine
Nova Religion - Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions
current articles presented at academic conferences.
"Religion and the quest for meaning and
order" by Jeffery Hadden
"Postmodernism and Religion" by Peter Beyer
"By Their Fruits..." by Margaret Poloma
This plethora of material provides insight into who we are by informing us of who we were, and the wide diversity of religious thought that has made us what we are as modern Christians. In offering this information at our fingertips, the web also parallels the spiritual disciplines in another way --
They Connect Us
An increased knowledge of the world, both present and past, draws us to make connections across time and space. The spiritual disciplines, likewise, strive to bring our inner selves - spirit and soul - into harmony with our bodies and with our external relationships to others, to nature, and to the divine. In a metaphoric sense, but also in a real tangible way, the web can and does unite us as members of one world wide communion which extends across temporal and spatial distance. Through the Web, we begin to see dimly God's attribute of omnipresence -- where one click of the mouse is as a thousand years or a thousand miles.
7000 Year Timeline
Live continuous camera feed from African
Around the World in 80 Clicks
The web not only makes ancient texts available to us, but also all the lived religions around us. More importantly, it offers us a picture of who they say they are - whether it be the largest religious groups, parachurch organizations, or the individual thoughts and feelings of solitary believers and religious practitioners.
Through the many denominational web sites we can connect to every layer of these organizations -- from statements by the Presiding Bishop to diocese programs, to an individual congregation's schedule of activities.
A listing of Official Denominational
The Episcopal Church Official Homepage
Episcopal Provinces Dioceses Parishes
The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut
Christ Church Cathedral
Episcopal Church Unofficial Home Page
We can explore those religious group like us as well as those less familiar.
Religion In Hartford (database being updated)
Hartford Area Congregations (database being updated)
Houses of Worship
A listing of many Congregational Search
The New Religious Movements Homepage
A listing of Megachurches in the U.S.
Willow Creek Community Church
The Ultimate Jewish Israel Link Launcher
The Islam Page
Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist
Glide Memorial UMC Home Page
We can affirm our unions and unity across denominational and religious divides.
Anglican Communion Web Site
The Lambeth Conference
World Council of Churches
National Council of the Churches
The Holy See
Korean Churches on the WEB
Mike Croghan's Religion Page of All Faiths
We can connect with those who work beside us in service to the world.
A listing of Parachurch Groups and
Church World Service
Catholic Charities Resources Directory
Charities @ Work
Select Nonprofit Organizations on the
CRISIS CLINIC of Seattle
Habitat for Humanity International
And we can meet diverse groupings of faithful persons, especially the isolated individuals who might inhabit the margins of our society.
The First Church of Cyberspace
The United Communities of Spirit
Baba Falade's Afro-Caribbean Spirituality
Walking the labyrinth is always more than "just walking." In the "doing" we experience a different sense of who we are in relation to the "ground of our being." So too in journeying throughout the Web, our engagement with those whose pages we "hit" changes us in ways we seldom consciously perceive.
They Expand Us
Through this exposure with "the other" we are changed. Our lives are not the same after we read accounts of the Crusades or visit a White Supremacist web site, once we know that Gay Evangelical Christians exist. The ideas we ponder on the web and the outsiders who are "entertained unknowingly" in our memory caches touch us significantly. If we allow them, these encounters expand our consciousness.
The Crusades Information Page
Sheriff's Posse Comitatus
Kingdom Identity Ministries - Christian
Identity White Race
HRC's Ray of Light Project
Our thinking is enlarged by the engagement with ideas which are not our own.
The Temple of Gnosis
Order of Ouroboros
Knowledge of Reality Magazine
College of Damkar Golden Dawn & CCC
Druidry and Paganism
Our sense of "the public" is expanded in our encounter with those who may be different than us - strangers who come, however briefly, into our dens and studies.
REVEAL - Leaving the International Churches
Pixies Faerie Fairys Gnomes and Elves
Christianity on-line Chat Room
When we go off-line at three AM realizing our bottoms are sorer than our eyes, we do not stagger into bed as the same persons. There is no such thing as casual "browsing" of the Web. Our engagement with the Web, even superficially, alters our reality. The Web informs us of events and information beyond our immediate context. It connects us to a community that spans both time and space and expands our perception of ourselves, of the world, of others, and of God. Like our practice of the spiritual disciplines, we are changed in our pilgrimage through the Web. As with the ancient religious practices, we are also ultimately responsible as faithful followers of God to integrate our newly gained awareness into our faith journey in a constructive and mature manner.
Religion has always been sustained in "story" whether expressed orally, written, or now via web pages and hyperlinks. Each of these advancements in human expression have correlated to shifts in religious knowledge and understanding - the development of spoken languages, of written alphabets, of the printed word, and presently of the electronic and cyber media. These modes of communication have already ushered in a qualitatively different religious and human consciousness.
Throughout our human history, the multitude of sacred stories have seldom intersected and when they have it has often resulted in argument, division and war. We live in a peculiar time, a time in which we can encounter all these stories in a, more or less, neutral non-threatening manner.
We not only possess the ability to intersect with the official portrayals of these religious traditions but also with the unofficial, the contrary, and the heretofore unspoken individual traditions of these faiths. The Web allows for the expression and dissemination of "All Of Our Stories" - from the least among us to the mightiest. We have unprecedented access (via web pages, chat rooms, discussion lists, and email) to the individual experiences of, very soon, hundreds of millions of people from every country of our world. The multiple voices of all those spiritual seekers cannot not help but expand our religious consciousness if we just listen and embrace this reality in our quest to grow in the likeness of our example, Jesus Christ.
So how do we go about this discipline - a well tread path or randomly.
You may employ:
pages of "best links" like ours at Hartford
You can also use...
metapages (compilation of resources pages
with links), Christianity Miningco.com topical
search engines, or cross-search engines,
Alta Vista, Yahoo
Or follow a Webring, an intentionally set path
of like-minded sites, much as you would a
labyrinth pattern laid in tile or printed on a
canvas. Fellowship of the Earth Web Ring
Follow the links these sources suggest or just those which interest you. Examine the listed "resource links" of a page you are visiting for other promising sites.
But you also must stay open to a spontaneous whim to explore the unknown. By remaining open to, dare I say, the leading of the Holy Spirit, you can come upon amazing treasures. You might even intentionally incorporate "unpredictability" into your quest by using a random link generator which transports you to random places on the Web every time you use it. WebRoulette
However you proceed — I hope you now agree with me that this cyber-journey need not be divorced from your efforts to live out your faith. Your encounter with the World Wide Web can be an exercise which strengthens the spiritual quest of faithful living.
** Please note that the links to sites contained in this presentation do not constitute an endorsement of the ideas or content in those sites by either myself, Scott Thumma, nor Hartford Seminary who has graciously provided the space for this page.