1. Steps to Support a Good Relationship in Cyberspace
  2. Benefits
  3. Considerations
  4. Technologies
  5. Other Resources and Links
Imagine a set of wires spreading out across the world in every possible direction meeting at thousands of connecting points. Imagine that travelling through those wires are millions of electrical impulses carrying encoded messages for someone somewhere. Imagine those messages being carried from one connecting point to the next until they find the proper codes that match the one they have been sent. Imagine seeing those electrical impulses being translated into words, sentences, and paragraphs on a screen. Imagine being able to read those messages from family, friend, or spiritual companion. This description is in a sense what is happening to those of us who are spiritually companioning over the Internet. It is humbling. A message sent over the Internet does not travel a straight line. An email message can literally travel around the world several times before it arrives at its destination. For those of us involved in cyberspace, companioning is a metaphor for how we are continuously connecting throughout the creation in a web of Spirit, truth and compassion. 1

Steps to Support a Good Relationship in Cyberspace

We define Christian spiritual direction ... as help given by one Christian to another, which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to repsond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship. 3

Selecting and evaluating each other carefully is an important part of creating a solid foundation upon which the work can proceed.

  1. Privacy & Confidentiality:
    • ensure that the files/emails of the dialogues are secure on the computer;
    • be aware that email is stored by the ISP and may be viewed by technicians;
    • double check email addresses;
    • have alternate means of communication for when absolute confidentiality is necessary.
  2. Exchange biographies as part of seeing if individuals are right for each other.
  3. Exchange references if either person wants to ensure that the other is who they say they are.
  4. Have an initial meeting face-to-face, or by telephone, if possible.
  5. Be clear about frequency of exchanges appropriate and reasonable for both parties. Be clear if and how payment is to take place.
  6. Share experiences of each other's local, social, spiritual and religious communities. This helps to set each other in context and reality.

A possible opening question: What do you want and why are you at my door?

Benefits

We know that the written word can communicate presence and meaning, which is why we read Scripture, or letters from loved ones. 2

Considerations

Transference, Counter-transference and Projection

Imagination fills in the information that is missing about a person because of the lack of sensory (visual, auditory, ...) data in the relationship. The transference & projection may be more intense than usual and need to be discussed and worked through carefully and thoughtfully. It is important for the director to 'show' more of herself to dispel lack of reality.

Waiting

Waiting between responses gives time to reflect and for understanding and insight to come. Freedom is found in the pause between stimulus and response. 1

Lack of Community and Personal Contact

This is the greatest weakness. It is easier to trust a director who we know is embedded in a community of faith and accountability. A way of ameliorating this is through the sharing of verbal postcards of the communities in which each person lives, works and prays.

Language and Culture

It is important to work towards clarity with words, phrases and expressions, and understanding the style of communication, particularly where cultures differ; to be willing to ask what is meant; to explore meaning openly; frequently to check each other's interpretation of what is being said.

Technologies

No matter how slick the technology, what really matters is that two people are listening together for the leadings of the Spirit. ... the Internet is a gift to director and directee to make possible a relationship that would otherwise not exist. 2
email
Every day, the citizens of the Internet send each other billions of e-mail messages. If you are online a lot, you yourself may send a dozen or more e-mails each day without even thinking about it. Obviously, e-mail has become an extremely popular communication tool.
Instant Messaging
In our fast-paced world, sometimes even the rapid response of e-mail is not fast enough. You have no way of knowing if the person you are sending e-mail to is online at that particular moment or not. Also, if you are sending multiple e-mails back and forth with the same person, you normally have to click through a few steps to read, reply and send the e-mail. This is why instant messaging (IM) has gained popularity.
Instant messaging allows you to maintain a list of people that you wish to interact with. You can send messages to any of the people in your list, often called a buddy list or contact list, as long as that person is online. Sending a message opens up a small window where you and your friend can type in messages that both of you can see.
Examples: Miranda Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Skype is a little program for making free telephone calls over the internet to anyone else who also has Skype. It's free and easy to download and use, and works with most computers You can do Skype video calls if you have a webcam.
Web page
  • Web space: you have to have some space to save your web files. Many ISPs give enough free web space for a more-than-adequate website. You can get free web space in other ways. For example, sign up for an email address with Yahoo!. Then create a website at Yahoo! Geocities. Other places to try are Freewebs and Blogger although his latter is more useful as an online diary.
  • Web address (aka Domain Name): you have to have an address where people can find you! If you have free web space from your ISP it will have a web address; as will the other options for acquiring free web space. Otherwise it is easy to get one from somewhere like Church Hosting.
  • Creating a web page: as a free alternative to Microsoft Frontpage, which creates extraordinary amounts of reduntant code, you could try NVU as a good, free and simple alternative.

Other Resources and Links

  1. Jeanne Estella & Andre Heuer : Spiritual Direction in Cyberspace:
    The Journal of Spiritual Directors International - Presence Vol 3: no. 2 : May 1997
  2. Philip St Romain : Using the Internet for Spiritual Direction:
    The Journal of Spiritual Directors International - Presence Vol 8: no. 2 : June 2002
  3. William Barry & William Connolly : The Practice of Spiritual Direction (Harper & Row, 1982)
  4. Cyberpresence by Gerald May and
    Contemplating Cyberspace by Leslie Miller at the Shalem Institute
  5. Catholic Spiritual Direction
  6. Lamb & Lion Spiritual Guidance Ministries
  7. Metanoia: ABCs of Internet Therapy
  8. Peek Through the Window of the Episcopal Church: Spiritual Direction by Maria Hoshaw
  9. Shalom Place/Heartland Center for Spirituality: Spiritual Direction on the Internet and Preparing for Spiritual Direction
  10. Vatican: The Church and the Internet