Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Technology of Prayer: There's An App for That

The question we repeatedly ask of new technologies is always the same: Does it make our lives better, or intrude on them?

With phones, for example, we love the accessibility of cellular, the ability to make a call from the road side if our tire goes flat. We hate it when a phone rings during a movie, or interrupting an important face-to-face conversation.

Perhaps more than any other aspect of our lives, new digital technologies have disrupted, or at least dramatically changed, the space and time we give to prayer.

No one has quiet time any more. All moments that used to be pauses are now potential space to check messages, make calls. The ubiquity of always on communication, as much of a blessing it is in some instances, does change the approach we take to God as the one to go to when all else falls away.

So what if we attempt to develop a digital technology that enhances and deepens the life of prayer. This is what a number of app developers have undertaken, and wisely, they approach the development of prayer apps with the approach to prayer that is most widely experienced: We ask others to pray for us, and we promise to pray for them.

But do we? And how do we?

So I took time this past week to research prayer apps on iTunes. There are a variety of them out there. Some of them are painfully inelegant. A few of them are expensive, or include in-app purchases and advertisements, something I despise. But I did find one app that met all my criterion: it is beautiful, simple, and helpful. It's called Echo.

Here are some screen shots.

First add your prayers or pray

OLTT is our catechumenate: the app scrolls through your prayers

Expand and edit your prayer list on the fly

Set a specific amount of time for prayer, then scroll through the prayers

Title your prayers, and add descriptive information
You can also set alerts so your phone reminds you to pray at certain times. I've already noticed I'm using this app as much or more than my social networking apps, and am regularly migrating prayer requests I receive by e-mail, Facebook, or in person, into Echo. This app is going to change how I pray.

If you aren't an app person, there are some other ways to improve the shape of your prayer life. One of my favorites is the Daily Prayer Office resource. This dynamic web site designs daily prayer offices for you each day. There is also a page in preferences that allows you to insert your own personal prayers into each of the offices.

Prayer, in whatever way you practice it, really includes a variety of technologies. To pray at specific times, you need a clock. To remember to pray, you need lists. To pray with the wider Christian community, you need prayer books, and liturgies. It is not a huge stretch to incorporate prayer into the technologies we are now regularly using, but it is enough of a stretch that we have to be intentional in our transitions and engagements.


  1. This is really silly.

  2. If that is your reaction, it may be difficult to articulate why I feel otherwise, but I'll give it a shot. This morning I used an alarm here at the retreat center to be awake early enough to lead the community in morning prayer. Similarly, in most monastic communities, one of the monks has the job of ringing a bell to call the community to prayer. And in Islamic culture, there are typically criers and singers who call out over megaphones to call the whole community to prayer at specific times.

    I think of an app like this as a kin to these monastic practices and technologies, but now distributed out to everyone who carries a phone. In the past day, my phone has sent me regular push notifications to pray for the various things I have entered into Echo. So instead of having my day "interrupted" by other kinds of notifications (most of which I have shut off) I am periodically and regularly reminded to pray.

    I guess I just don't find that silly. I find it helpful.