Internet Relationships

No, I’m not just talking about sex.  I’m talking about all the sorts of relationships that have been made possible because of social media and the connectivity that the Internet provides.  I was talking with a friend of mine and she was making a cautionary point to me, but then followed it up with the phrase, ‘but you’ve had more internet relationships than I have, and you’re better at the nuances,’ or something to that very similar effect.  And it’s true.  While I have a whole host of people that I know, love, and hang out with in person and on the phone, there is also this whole pantheon of people who I know, and who know me entirely through the media of the digital word on their computer screen.

I argued in undergrad, so many years ago, that such relationships can be as profound and nuanced as any face to face ones.  Not the same, no, and embodied moments like Ash Wednesday, and wanting to attend a funeral when someone I know online has died, make me realize that.  Not the same.  The same argument can be made for cybersex.  It’s not really quite the same thing as lying in bed with someone.  No.  But that’s not really the point, is it?

I’m a priest.  Everyone knows it.  I write a lot.  Everyone knows that, too.  And there are some really fab people out there who have given marvelously in depth reviews to my work and who I’ve gotten quite friendly with, getting to know them as we write our digital letters back and forth, ostensibly conversing about the characters and sometimes lifting the veil to admit how they are mirrors for our own lives.

And so, because I write, and because I am a priest, and because I have responded to reviews (or I did quite faithfully at one point), I know that there is a man a few states over from me whose heart is breaking as his mother dies, and my heart breaks with his.  It’s not the Aaron Copland I’m listening to as I write this that is making me wipe away the tears time and time again.  And because I write, am a priest, and have responded to reviews, I know that there is a woman who is struggling for equilibrium over on the west coast as she deals with the latest cancer diagnosis in her family.  And my heart breaks.

You’d think the pain would get to me, but it’s the opposite.  ‘A broken and contrite heart, O God, you do not despise.’  It’s the hardened heart that God wishes weren’t the case.  It’s when we build a wall up around ourselves and top it with barbed wire, when we’ve tried so hard to protect ourselves that we can no longer feel anything at all… that is when we have failed.  The soft heart is both a gift from God and an acceptable sacrifice all at the same time.  The soft heart is the heart that God godself protects, supports, adores and cherishes.

So I suppose it’s all part of the job description and no matter where I go, what I do, I am never not a priest.  And as I walked along the deserted precipice of Niagara Falls last night in the rain, considering what it is to be a steward of holy mysteries, I was given the realization that part of it was to see the holiness of life and point to it.  It is not necessary that I understand it.  It is necessary that I point.  To this I can now add having a broken and contrite heart that I can then model for others.  I can point to it and say, ‘do you see this? This is holy.’


  1. Your soft heart also helps all the hurting hearts feel less alone. While grief shared may not always be grief divided, it’s certainly a less daunting burden.
    Platitudes about a divine plan in the face of any type of grief are a particular pet peeve of mine. I’d rather have some one cry with me any day of the week. My favorite comment (from a friend) when I ranted about the ‘everything happens for a reason’ platitude: “How insulting! God is crying just as hard as we are. He never likes His children to hurt.”
    So thank you for crying for your cyber friends. Tears shared are a gift of love.

  2. My personal favorite of responses to someone who is expressing a fear of dying is to be very, very real. To calmly and gently (with tissues at hand) point out that, yes, they could die at this point. To remind them that death is what happens when we’re done with this world, that it isn’t a failure or proof that we’ve been abandoned by God, or payback for being a bad person. It just is. It will happen to each of us. And their time to die may be coming sooner than later. And if they choose to take some time and come to terms with that RIGHT NOW, then they can go on living the rest of their life free from the crushing weight that the denial of death lays on all of us who partake in it. In essence, die now and get it over with so that when you actually experience death, it can be blissful. (Several major world religions have had wise folk who’ve expressed much the same sentiment. Not remotely original.)

    Now, this was shocking to me the first time I heard it, but more or less immediately it filled the hollow place that had been made by all the platitudes I’d ever been given, given to others, or witnessed in my life, and it filled that hollow space with light and warmth and calm.

    So, facing down my own death, deeply acknowledging my own mortality gave me a peace and freedom from the sense of slavery and oppression that seemed to be so commonly associated with death for me, and in mainstream American culture.

    Perhaps this is what the troparion means when we chant ‘Jesus is trampling down death by death.’ Maybe not, but it’s one of the things it now means for me.


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