Some books do more than simply convey information; they help readers see the world with a fresh set of eyes.
Meeting God in Virtual Reality: Using Spiritual Practices With Media, by Teresa Blythe and Daniel Wolpert, is such a book. Just released by Abingdon Press as part of its Convergence series (edited by Tom Bandy and Bill Easum), Meeting God is a quick read with a lingering message.
The message is that God can reveal the divine self through media—if media consumers will take the trouble to notice.
Blythe, spiritual director and media literacy advocate, and Wolpert, pastor of Crookston Presbyterian Church in Minnesota, have written a 96-page "how to" book teaching readers how to combine media literacy and spiritual exploration.
The book "is for those who want to become or remain spiritually aware as they interact with television, film, music videos, recorded music, video games, and the Internet—what we are calling the world of imagined, constructed, or virtual reality," reads the introduction.
Blythe and Wolpert, in an easy-to-read style, return to centuries-old disciplines to help readers do intentionally what sometimes happens intuitively—that is, turn to prayer when our psyches are affected by visual images (e.g. seeing the World Trade Center crumble).
The book links six traditional Christian disciplines to media use, and each is given a chapter. The disciplines are:
The Benedictine practice of lectio divina;
The Ignatian prayer of examen;
Discernment of the spirits;
Imageless centering prayer.
Each chapter uses the 2001 movie "K-PAX," which features significant religious imagery and language, as a point of discussion.
In the first three chapters, the authors discuss: how the Benedictine approach of "divine reading" can work for our media consumption; how Ignatius' practice of examen can help us figure out how media not only draw us closer to God, but also how they pull us away; and how looking at popular culture with a critical eye enhances our skills of discernment.
"Finding a deeper story within a story is the essence of discernment," Blythe and Wolpert write. "The biblical writers all looked into the stories of their times and tried to find another story, the story of how God was working in their world."
The last three chapters focus on "imaginative prayer," study of biblical texts and silent contemplation.
They emphasize the importance of study and reflection, saying we must find God in all sorts of texts. They point to the book of Esther as an ancient example of how God is found in its story of human struggle.
Blythe and Wolpert, for all of their interest in media, present an even-handed approach to media use in spiritual exploration.
"Virtual reality can be overwhelming," they write, "and just because we pray with it does not mean we need more of it in our lives." Time and again they stress that media must not distract us from knowledge about God, or in any way become a substitute for other types of worship and study.
"Plopping yourself down in front of the TV and saying you are praying—without ever picking up the Bible, going to church, or receiving some instruction about the faith—is not what we are recommending in this book," say Blythe and Wolpert.
Meeting God in Virtual Reality will be a handy book for worship planners, spiritual directors, educators and anyone interested in looking at media from a new perspective—one that seeks to understand how God is, and is not, manifesting the Spirit.
Blythe and Wolpert provide plenty examples of the ideas they discuss, and the skill set they hope to cultivate is well worth developing.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Click here to buy Meeting God in Virtual Reality now from Amazon.com.
Stay tuned for our interviews with authors Teresa Blythe and Daniel Wolpert.