|God on the Web
By Eileen Wirth
Winter Issue 1998-99
“As Jesuit, Creighton participates in the tradition of the Society of Jesus which provides an integrating vision of the world that arises out of a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ….”Members of the Creighton community are challenged to reflect on transcendent values, including their relationship with God, in an atmosphere of freedom of inquiry, belief and religious worship.” --- Creighton University Mission Statement
Every week about 2,000 people throughout international cyberspace “retreat” to their computers to send a few minutes a day contemplating the meaning of God in their lives.
With just a few keystrokes, secretaries at Creighton, retirees in Wisconsin, monks in Europe, teachers in the Philippines and business people in Omaha who would never otherwise complete the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are immersing themselves in the mysteries of God’s infinite love for people and what it means o be in a relationship with God and others.
With a few more keystrokes, many are converting a hauntingly evocative photo into their computer screen’s “wallpaper” for the week to help them meditate on what they’ve just read.
It’s part of Creighton’s Weekly Online Retreat in Everyday Life which is drawing expressions of thanks and praise from people around the globe and may be the only service of its type on the Internet.
It’s also just one of the innovative ways that the Collaborative Ministry Office and Jesuits at Creighton and elsewhere and their colleagues are using technology to bring people closer to God. The office also sponsors a Daily Reflections Page (see box) bases on the readings for Mass. In addition, individual Jesuits and Jesuit institutions have their own websites (see box).
According to Andy Alexander, S.J., vice president for University Ministry, his office began using the Internet to promote spiritual growth during Lent as a service to Creighton employees, nearly all of whom have easy access to personal computers.
“We started a daily reflections page on the (Mass) readings of the day,” he said. “It was getting 200 to 300 ‘hits’ per day. We realized that we have tremendous potential here. We’ve long offered talks, weekend retreats and office hours retreats, but there are still hundreds of people around Creighton who can’t participate. But they all have P.C.s on their desks.”
This fall, Alexander and his associate in the Collaborative Ministry Office, Maureen Waldron, developed the 33-week online retreat and began the massive task of writing and designing materials for the Web.
Design of the Retreat
Materials are located at the following address: http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/cmo-retreat.html or can be accessed through a link of Creighton’s home page (www.creighton.edu)
There are two instructions for getting started and answers to frequently asked questions (see box, page 24). There are also tips for “making this Retreat on your own” and for making it with a group.
Retreat materials center on the great themes of the Spiritual Exercises expressed in simple, concrete terms and examples drawn from daily life. Take, for example, the opening reflection of the first week of the retreat.
“This is the first week of a 33-week journey. We begin at the beginning – our story. Prayer is about our relationship with God. We will begin to grow in the relationship with God in the midst of our everyday lives this week by simply reflecting upon our own story. There may be times we will want to take a period for prayer to reflect upon our story this week. What is most important, however, is that we begin by letting this reflection become the background of our week.”
This introduction is accompanied by a photo by Don Doll, S.J., of a modern “madonna”— a mother caressing her infant.
Doll’s renowned photos appear weekly to illustrate each theme and lead people to contemplation. Not all are warm and comforting like the “madonna.” A week focusing on the “Disorder of Sin,” for example, features a picture of a devastated village in Bosnia which Doll visited last spring.
“Each photo carries a Scripture passage to make it a prayer,” Waldron said.
“There is something special about an image which is so powerful,” said Alexander. “These images are evocative of emotion and feeling. They can help draw people into the experience (of the retreat) more deeply. It’s fairly powerful to think that a thousand people all over have the same image in their consciousness.”
There’s also a weekly “Guidepost for the Journey” by Larry Gillick, S.J., director of the Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality and a longtime popular columnist for the Creightonian. The Guideposts offer down-to-earth (often humorous) reflections on the theme of the week and the human condition.
The fist week, for example, Gillick wrote that knowing and doing what is good for us are two different things and that humans often resist the latter.
“The first guidepost then is this: Do not expect, look for or demand progress. Enjoy and live the process, even though as with physical exercise, you might not like doing them every day….We allow God to give the increase, the insights, the progress.”
In reflecting on God’s faithful presence in human life, Gillick wrote that:
“God does not create us and then set us on the earth as so many abandoned mile jugs or degenerating cars. God tends to us as the beloved and labors upon and around us for our soul’s purpose. God wants only, then, that we experience infinite love being revealed within our finite experiences and our reception of that love in our lives.”
Links within each week’s retreat materials invite participants to write
their reactions and read what others have written (see box, page 25).
Reactions to the Retreat
Alexander said he and Waldron have heard from a wide range of people
“We’ve found that people are hungry for this,” said Waldron. “People have a deep need within themselves for a relationship with God.”
She said it thrills her to walk around campus and notice that many computer users have saved the week’s photo on their computer screens.
“While they are sitting at their desks, they can have an awareness of God all day. They can remember what prayer is about. It’s about integrating spirituality into your life.”
That, said several users, is what happens with them.