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Instagram and Communion
Photo by Carlynn Alarid / Unsplash

Instagram and Communion

Justin Barber
4 min read

Hello friends,

You’re finally receiving the first Valleyist of 2020! It’s been two months since my last email but I haven’t abandoned the newsletter – I’ve just been in a bit of a rut 😅 (more on that below). But I’m excited to get back into a regular rhythm of writing!

In my last email I described how the grandeur of two majestic, European cathedrals made me feel like God is a cold, distant being; and how this image of God differs from my view of God as deeply relational.

After reading my reflection of how these cathedrals made me feel, my friend Tom (who cough has a PhD in Early Christianity from a prestigious university) responded with this reminder:

“To add one wrinkle to the awe/intimacy issue: remember that these buildings were designed not for tourists to walk through, but for people to take part in a particular religious service — the Roman Catholic mass.

Tom explains that the core concept of Mass, or Communion,

is where Jesus lets himself be eaten by Christians. In other words, the almighty being who strikes awe in us (communicated through aspects of the architecture) is the very same being who comes to us and into us. It’s hard to get more intimate than that! The two go together — awe and intimacy, architecture and Eucharist.”

What a poetic balance!

Tom helped me realize that it wasn’t the design of the Sagrada Familia that made God feel distant, but rather the way in which I experienced the space.

The cathedral was built to be a container, a sort of housing, for the intimate spiritual experience of Communion. Despite its magnificence, it was never meant to be the experience itself.

And yet that’s exactly what’s happened — the structure, the shell, the container, has become the experience. This isn’t an inherently bad thing! I’m grateful that I was able to enter and enjoy the cathedral even though I’m not Catholic or Spanish.

But as a result, the heart of the experience has also changed — everywhere I looked my fellow tourists were popping poses and snapping photos:

Communion had been replaced with its secular equivalent: Instagramming.

At an abstract level, Instagramming (the process of taking a photo with the intent to share it) and Communion are similar rituals.

To begin, both rituals are attempts to ingest or internalize a moment that is bigger than ourselves.

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