Thursday, March 21, 2013

Virtual communities of care

Have you ever been the recipient of a group hug? An actual, honest-to-goodness group hug given out of love and support and care? Or have you ever had a group of people lay their hands on you as they prayed for you? There's something incredibly powerful and incarnational about that kind of group touch. To feel hands gently laid on you or to feel a multitude of arms wrapped around you, as holy words, set-apart words specifically for you are spoken on your behalf…there’s nothing quite like it. It’s uplifting. It’s transforming.

Okay…so now, imagine you’re sick. Very sick. Maybe you even know you’re dying. Imagine being able to receive that sort of group hug or laying on of hands from dozens, maybe even hundreds of people. Not only the ones who can geographically be present, but including people who are scattered all over your state, all over the country, all over the world. What if some of these people were even complete strangers but who had made a decision to be consciously invested in your well-being anyway and participate in the hug or laying on of hands?

What if, after the hug, you could re-create it on demand, whenever you needed it…poof, just like that?

In a sense, that’s the kind of presence websites like CaringBridge offer. It’s like a gigantic virtual group hug for people and their loved ones who are in the scariest, most depressing, most vulnerable points in their life.
That said, virtual community is never a substitute for actual, flesh-and-blood community. However, it can be a powerful accompaniment to that community. The power lies in a couple of areas. First, just the sheer numbers and the potential for the sheer geographical reach. In my HuskerMax community, there have been times when I’ve posted prayer request items. People all over the country, and even sometimes in other parts of the world, have responded. To know that people scattered so far and wide are praying on your behalf can be an incredibly powerful thing. Sometimes, these end up even being people that you’ve never met.

Another advantage to an online caring community is that you have the ability to go back and bring up those messages of support and love at any time. A hug or a spoken word is beautiful, but once the hug is done, it’s done until you’re given another one. Once a word is spoken , while it can be recalled through memory it’s still not tangibly there in the same form. With online messages though, you can go to your site and read them any time you need. If you’re having a particularly bad day, you can pull up the site and remember…literally, re-member, bring back the body. Re-read and re-experience the virtual hug or the virtual laying on of hands by the wider community.

It’s a different kind of presence. But a potentially powerful one. 

1 comment:

Mary Hess said...

Yes! and I think you're pointing to one of the key insights Heidi Campbell has had (she's a scholar of digital cultures). That is, that digital spaces are not very good at replacing physical relationality, but they are often very good at sustaining, expanding or intensifying relationships already begun.