I have been thinking a lot about fellowship recently. Partly because I have been running a Unity discussion group and listening to a lot of very engaging retreat talks given by David Davenport, Unity Maidenhead’s minister, a generation ago. And partly because I am part of a 12-step programme where daily fellowship, ‘sharing experience strength and hope,’ is a central heart of our spiritual growth.
Our modern digital world can be a very lonely place. No HD screen or Dolby sound system can replace the human presence. A touch is so much more important than a touch screen! Yet if you go on the train these days you find so many souls huddled over their iPhones, cutting themselves of from the sights and sounds of the outside world.
In some ways of course we are more open to each other than people were in the past. Taboos have been overcome. We can talk more about some quite intimate things. But so much of this sharing is done impersonally, via the internet. How often do we dare to speak our truth directly to our partner, our neighbour, or our work colleague? Do we even tell it to ourselves?
Each morning at Unity we gather on Zoom to prayer and meditate around the Daily Word reflection for the day. It is a very warm, open, and supportive place – although of course we meet each other only via an online screen. Phones can provide a more direct encounter. Here at Taplow, where we run the Silent Unity prayer line, people ring in every day, often because they feel hurt, even paralysed by loneliness. We rarely meet these people, but often feel so very close to them – and this closeness, in the act of prayer especially, is so very healing and uplifting.
Are there other ways in which we can cut across the impersonality of our twenty-first century world? Eric Butterworth, one of Unity’s most popular and inspiring writers, once told the story of a chance meeting with a young teenager in a New York subway. Seeing this young person by chance across a crowded carriage he was struck by how lonely and vulnerable the boy looked. He wanted to go up and hug him! But of course he could not do that. Instead he shut his eyes and prayed. When he opened them, their eyes met by chance for the very first time. Instinctively they both smiled. Eric Butterworth said that he never forgot that moment in his life.
So I don’t think we have to tear down our digital culture to get through the isolation. Sometimes it can be as simple as a chance smile across a train carriage. The important thing for me is to be open to the moment. And I think that our Unity journey helps us so much in this - perhaps the greatest single thing I can do in my day.
Unity media producer
Unity in the UK