Saturday, November 5, 2011

Breaking Bread with Online Friends

"How do you know all these people?" exclaimed a friend last night, when I stopped by her house to wish her a happy birthday.  "You had a rabbi from St. Louis and a photographer from Philadelphia at your ordination - how did that happen?"

A couple of years ago one of my seminary professors expressed great skepticism about internet interactions and friendships.

Let's see . . .

Carol isn't a rabbi, but she is a dear friend (unmet in real life until last Sunday!) as a consequence of fifteen years of emailing among a group of moms who met online.  Carol and I have enjoyed numerous discussions about Jewish-Christian matters over the years and she has been a rock in my life since Josh died.  Of course I wanted her to read Psalm 139, and to read at least the first few lines in Hebrew.

Michelle isn't a professional photographer, but she's a contemplative one, as well as a chemistry professor and essayist on the spiritual life.  We met online through our mutual passion for blogging and Ignatian spirituality, and we've met at Wernersville, a place of silence and prayer to which Michelle heads frequently and I, once a year.  We blogged our way through Into the Silent Land Together (see top of page), and we've shared many conversations, both intense and humorous. 

Another online and now in-person friend who appeared is Chris.  We met because an article appeared in the local paper a few weeks after Josh died, a year after her daughter died in Italy.  We've walked along Lake Erie together and we've shared many challenging and loving conversations with two other heartbroken mothers, all of whom met through our blogs andall of whom eventually spent months in an online retreat together, reading and writing about a Joyce Rupp bookr.

I'm realizing as I report on these friendships that perhaps they are not so much online friendships as writing friendships.  Carol mentioned that many of her friends at home expressed skepticism about her trip out here; many of my friends also roll their eyes at the mention of internet relationships. 

But the reality is that years of shared correspondence ~ whether high tech or via the old quill-and-ink method ~ produce deep reflection, intimate sharing, and lasting friendship. 

The image is Michelle's ~ My First Celebration of Communion.


  1. There is a long history of spiritual correspondance which moved from one person to another in many different ways from hand carried, to the USPS and the interwebs...think of all those letters Ignatius wrote, and St. Paul :)

  2. I know, Michelle. I didn't realize, when First Spiritual Director and I headed in different directions and the emails began, that we were following in the tradition of Ignatius and his - what? 5,000? - more letters written than anyone else in the 16th century.

    Thus has also begun to generate some thoughts (and a post or two, no doubt!) on the rhetoric of proclamation and pastoral care, on the roles of the preacher and the spiritual companion, on public exegesis and private conversation.

  3. I agree - and I find a similar skepticism among friends who are not bloggers. I, too have met and developed real, deep friendships with some of those who initially came into my life via the web. And there are others, like you, who I haven't met in the flesh yet, but the depth of our sharing has made this a REAL relationship.

    I sometimes think that the internet has been one of the greatest grief-resources ever invented - and am grateful to have met you, Karen East and Chris here, among many others!

  4. I love seeing you in your robe, breaking the bread. What a wonderful celebration!

  5. Karen, I am reading Elizabeth Edwards' book, Resilience, and she, too, found much support in internet communities. I think you are so right; when everyone else thinks we should have moved on, the internet is a great source for finding all those who know differently.

  6. I am just so happy to see this picture - your first communion with a beautiful smile that lights up your face.

    Many people I know don't get my internet friendships. They think it's strange but these friendships are frequently deeper and more meaningful than the superficiality that seems to permeate many real life encounters.

  7. my mother-in-law recently said something I had done was good networking for the business. She was only correct, if she meant that making friends is good networking. I have been asked to give a talk this week to fellow crafters about social networking. I am going to tell the story of amazing human connections.

  8. The internet friendships have been, by far, the most supportive and helpful to me. I am forever thankful for the connections, and still need them very much to help me find my way. I am a stranger in a strange land, and I love the "strangers" who are on the road with me.
    Love you, Karen Johnson

  9. The thought of me as a rabbi is more funny than frightening. As for being a rock for you, that is very much a two-way street, my friend. I have learned so much from you both before and after Josh's death. I've said it before and will say it again, it was both an honor and a privilege to be a participant in and witness to your ordination. Yet another learning opportunity for me and one that I will cherish for many years to come.