Friday, September 15, 2000
Jesuit University Repackages
By JESSICA LUDWIG
Spiritual retreat and meditation do not have to mean leaving the country, the office, or even going off-line. A group of administrators at Creighton University's Collaborative Ministry Office has created a sacred space on the Web at Online Ministries.
The site offers a 34-week online retreat modeled after the Spiritual Exercises, a book written in the 1540's for monastics, priests, and lay people by Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order of priests.
Generally, the spiritual exercises are performed during a month-long retreat. The online retreat takes into account modern time constraints and encourages spiritual reflection during the morning and evening hours of each day.
The schedule for the online retreat is arranged in such a fashion that someone who starts the retreat this weekend will be meditating on Jesus' birth at Christmas and on his death at Easter.
Like the Spiritual Exercises, the online retreat leads participants to contemplate the life of Christ by examining their own lives. For example, in Week 13's segment, titled "God prepares the way," individuals examine their own ancestry and come to understand Jesus through reflecting on the Hebrew tradition. Additional resources to guide those on retreat include scriptural readings, prayers, and photographs for each week contributed by the Rev. Don Doll, a photojournalist.
The virtual pilgrimage began as a supplement for faculty and staff at Creighton, which is in Omaha; three years later the site has received over 200,000 hits from people around the world. "The retreat was designed for use by very busy people," says the Rev. Andy Alexander, vice president for university ministry and director of the collaborative ministry office. "Thousands of people wouldn't go to a retreat, but they are very familiar with the Web."
Adapting St. Ignatius to cyberspace doesn't change the fundamental principles of his teachings. For Father Alexander, the retreat is complementary to the Jesuit university's educational philosophy based on "a 450-year-old tradition not to educate people to make more money." He continues, "The root of liberal education is to free people to serve people."
Discipline and personal introspection fuel the online journey. 'When we started to do this, lots of people said we were depersonalizing something personal," says Father Alexander. He contends that the online retreat is more interactive than other religious sites, because "you have to bring something, it's progressive, it brings a person from one place to another."
The sharing possible online is a vital component of the retreat, says Maureen McCann Waldron, associate director of the collaborative ministry office. Comments sent by visitors are posted on the site's feedback page, and parish communities have set up individual online bulletin boards.
Adding to a sense of community are the 50 faculty and staff members at Creighton who contribute to the Web site through a daily written reflection on scripture. Richard Super, associate professor of history, notes that writing daily reflections is very different from academic writing or instructing students. "What I want to avoid doing is lecturing or preaching. That's my challenge," he says.