Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, wants young Christians to send daily prayers via Twitter, the text-messaging service that allows you to disseminate messages to a wide audience of “followers” and friends – so long as the message is no longer than 140 characters long. At first glance, this might seem like another of those faintly embarrassing examples of clergymen trying to be “with-it” – the technological equivalent of folk Masses. Not a bit of it.
Praying via Twitter is a brilliant idea that has already been put into practice by young Christians. So many prayers, particularly modern ones, tend to waffle self-indulgently. But you cannot waffle when you “tweet” (to use the correct but cringemaking verb for this activity). Paradoxically, the need for compression sends us back to the most ancient prayers of the faith – including, especially, the Psalms. Twitter users will understand what we mean when we suggest that they follow @prayingpsalms. “Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.” That is a verse from Psalm 130. It is also a tweet.
A couple of years ago the Catholic writer and musician Stephen Hough published a book, Praying the Bible (Continuum), which extracted every “prayable” passage from the Old and New Testaments and turned them into mini meditations for the sort of Christians who have to eat lunch at their desks. His selection is a wonderful resource for believers and would-be believers with alarmingly full diaries. Praying via Twitter is an imaginative technological extension of this exercise, and Cardinal Brady is to be congratulated for spotting its potential.
“O Lord, deliver me from every ignorance and heedlessness, from pettiness of the soul and stony hardness of heart.” That message can be brushed aside when read from the lectern; but it is harder to ignore if your BlackBerry delivers it to you in the middle of a dispiriting business meeting. Pray constantly, said St Paul; now we can.