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Book Review: Prayer in the Digital Age

Cheryl Dickow

Matt Swaim

Matt Swaim is one of my favorite authors.

For me this is an easily quantifiable statement. It is important that when I pick up a book I learn something new, am given a new insight or dimension on something that I already know or in some way am edified. Swaim delivers on all counts.
Matt’s first book, The Eucharist and the Rosary, quickly became my “go-to” book to bring to Adoration.

With his newest book, Prayer in the Digital Age, Swaim easily proves himself to be the voice for our age—wherein “age” refers to the technological world in which we find ourselves trying to discover how we connect with one another while we stay connected to God. Armed with wit and wisdom, Swaim shows that he has his hand on the pulse of where Catholics are at, where we might be going if we aren’t careful and where we ought to be going with mindfulness and a keen awareness of how to get the most from technology without unwittingly selling out.

So much more than a cautionary tale wherein one might throw the baby out with the bath water, Prayer in the Digital Age is the well-formed, clearly executed resource on how to maneuver through technology with our souls intact. Swaim is honest and straightforward in everything he covers. He’s clever and incredibly insightful. I was particularly taken by such concepts as the personas that are being manufactured and portrayed and the harm that such a fabrication does to the person and the person’s relationship with God and with others. I applaud Matt for such honest truths as when he says: Our illusory friendships are with avatars and actors rather than with those who should be closest to us, namely family, friends and colleagues.

If you want a great book to read that is relevant and worthwhile, you want Prayer in the Digital Age. Quite frankly, the foreword by Jennifer Fulwiler is worth the purchase price alone! I laughed out loud (LOL!) when I read it and knew I was in for an excellent treat in the coming pages.

Along with writing, Matt is the Executive Producer of Brian Patrick’s Sonrise Morning Show which is produced by Sacred Heart radio and carried by EWTN. Interestingly, the Sonrise Morning Show has as a regular contributor Dr. Kevin Vost who is another of my favorite authors.

Matt generously gave me a few minutes of his time, in between all his demands, to answer some questions—you’ll love the anecdote about laundering his Smartphone!

Cheryl: You are clearly very knowledgeable about Christian history, Scripture and the technology you speak of in Prayer in the Digital Age; can you give the reader a brief background about yourself?

Matt: Sure! I was raised in a strong Christian family, and have always had a deep love for Christ. Growing up, I remember mowing lawns to buy my first 8-bit Nintendo, and have been pretty well plugged in ever since. As I began to get into underground music through my teenage years, cynicism about the media began to develop, and my relationship with technology took on more of a love-hate character. Over the course of my collegiate studies (which included philosophy, media, and scripture), my understanding of the relationship between faith and media became more nuanced. Imagine my surprise, as I began to explore the Catholic Church and discovered that this conversation had been going on even prior to the Second Vatican Council!
 
Cheryl: This book is timely and filled with profound and necessary insights. I was so affected by what you wrote in this book! Can you tell me a bit about the process of this book—from the idea being put upon your heart to the completion?
 
Matt: A couple of Christmases ago, I was gearing up for a silent retreat and in preparation for the retreat, I accidentally ruined my Smartphone by putting it through the laundry. The irony that I’d feel the need for 3G access on a silent retreat finally struck me. While in the monastery, I read a ton of actual books and wrote about a third of Prayer in the Digital Age. I was amazed at how relevant the insights of saints like Augustine, Therese of Lisieux and John of the Cross were to the challenges posed by the digital age. I guess you could say that the book is almost like a diary, with me taking an assessment of my own tendencies when it comes to my use of technology and putting it all down on paper. As any writer knows, there are an awful lot of things that become part of a book that were never even in the original concept, and that was certainly the case with this one. Any insight of value was likely stolen from a Doctor of the Church and repurposed for the edification of the reader.
 
Cheryl: There are so many books “out there” that, while warm and fuzzy, really don’t shed light on some of the issues that Catholics face today—or will be facing in the near future—and how to deal with them. There are also many books that seem to rehash what has already been “done.” Prayer in the Digital Age truly stands alone in what it shared with the reader. Is it possible to give us an idea of what you hoped the reader would take away from this treasure?
 
Matt: The easy thing to do when it comes to looking at the media through the lens of our Catholic faith is to just assume it’s all bad and inherently harmful. Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have reminded us that we’re called to be significantly more critical than that in our approach. If anything, what I hope the reader takes away is a sense of empowerment- an assuagement of the feelings of being overwhelmed by what is seen as a hostile digital environment. The book was an attempt to tap into the sentiments that many of us have about what’s good and bad about the media, and articulate it for those who haven’t been able to quite put their finger on what’s wrong and what should be done about it.
 
Cheryl: This is your second book and I wonder what we can expect from you in the future.
 
Matt: The most exciting project on the horizon for me is a collaboration (to which I’ve only contributed minimally) with Dr. Kevin Vost (St. Albert the Great), Peggy Bowes (The Rosary Workout) and others, called Tending the Temple. Tending the Temple is due out in late summer. It’s a devotional that follows the calendar of saints and uses their lives to explore themes of spiritual and physical fitness. I had a blast writing the few entries I added to the volume, and I think readers will appreciate the wit and wisdom of the other contributors.

Topics: Books

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. She co-authored and published the best-selling All Things Girl books and co-hosted the EWTN 13 part televison series of the same name. Her company is Bezalel Books (Bezalel is Hebrew and means "in the shadow of God") where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith. Her website is www.BezalelBooks.com where parents, teachers and catechists are invited to browse through titles.  

View all articles by Cheryl Dickow

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