The best step I have ever taken for my spiritual health, personal sanity, and relationships has been removing Facebook from my iPhone. The second best step has been imagining ways I can turn my phone into a prompt for prayer.
I think we all know what happens when we’re carrying a phone around. I keep checking and checking and checking it. Every time there’s a free moment, the phone comes out and I scroll through whatever app I can find. It’s an impulse or habit for many of us by now. When I had email and three or four social media accounts to flip through, I could waste a ton of time on my phone.
Our attachment to our phones is becoming legendary. People experience anxiety apart from their phones to the point that those trying to break their attachment can buy fake phones that are sized and weighted like real ones. We have anxiety complexes over dead batteries. We check our phones the first thing in the morning and right before going to bed.
Although I am far from the most virtuous or disciplined person with my phone, I decided to try using my phone as a prompt to pray and to even lead me toward contemplative prayer. I’ve written about this in my newsletter, but now that I’ve given it a shot for a longer stretch of time, I finally feel able to publicly offer a few thoughts on what has worked.
What I Don’t Use
I tried using podcast prayer apps, but I don’t really have the time to dive into podcasts all that often, and lately I prize silence more than anything else. If I have a quiet moment, I’m not going to put something on!
Having said that, I did use Pray as You Go for a season and really benefited from it. It’s especialy ideal for commuters. Others have strongly recommended the Abide app. If contemplative prayer is new or intimidating to you, a podcast like Pray as You Go may help you take steps toward reflecting on scripture and making time to be still.
I have also used the Jesuits app on and off again. It offers some simple Examen questions, a scripture reading, and a brief reflection. It’s also on both Android and Apple.
My Essential Smartphone Contemplation Plan
Most importantly, I wanted for my iPhone set up to make prayer or reading deeper articles easier and more or less automatic. My home screen includes the apps for the Examine, Pocket, the Clock, and Safari (the Mac internet browser), which are my main sources of smartphone-based contemplation.
Safari always has the page for the Divine Hours at Vineyard Ann Arbor loaded. I often access the Divine Hours in the morning at the very least or during a break at work when I take a little stretch break when I remember to set my Pomodoro timer. The Divine Hours offer small and large passages of scripture and prayers that you can read, meditate on, or recite throughout the day.
The Examine app remains one of my most valued apps. By offering a series of prompts about what’s encouraging or discouraging from my day, I can practice the Ignatian Examen once or twice a day in order to take stock of my soul and to better direct my prayers. Most importantly, the Examen helps me to become aware of when I need to remain silent and become more present for God’s love.
While the Clock is a standard, ho hum app that I suppose most people may not even consider using, I use the timer all of the time for centering prayer. I mean, who can judge when 20 minutes have passed? I just set the timer and leave it alone while I sit and either focus on breathing quietly, praying the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner), or centering on a “sacred word.”
As for reading contemplative materials, I keep my Pocket app on my home screen in order to read articles that I’ve saved throughout the day. Pocket has a really clean interface that makes it easy to read without distraction. I save articles all day, so it’s ideal to have a place where I can access them when I have a moment. I also subscribe to the daily email from Richard Rohr, which has been a real lifeline some days.
In fact, I have relied so deeply on Rohr’s emails that I set up my own Contemplative Writer website that offers daily or weekly subscription options that send contemplative scripture and articles to subscribers. There’s the daily option to sign up to receive new posts in your inbox or you can sign up for the weekly contemplative prayer email.
What I Hide or Don’t Have on My Phone
As I mentioned already, I don’t have Facebook on my iPhone. I don’t have Messenger, Twitter, or Hootsuite either. I manage all of that on my computer for the most part.
I do use Instagram on my phone, but I do my best to hide that way in the back and mostly manage it through the Later app, which has been a true lifesaver when combined with Canva.
My data plan with Consumer Cellular is fairly limited, and I have data turned off for almost everything except for email, maps, and Safari, primarily so I can access Rohr’s emails and the Divine Hours on the go. Everything else, including Instagram and the NHL app, have data turned off.
Most importantly, my goal all along has been to train myself to pray before I do anything else. That’s a challenge most days when work time is limited, and it’s especially hard as our family transitions to a new town. However, there’s no denying that I immediately feel a bit of guilt if I start answering emails before reading the Morning Office or reading Rohr’s email.
I’m sure this little contemplative smartphone plan will evolve in the years to come, but for now, I’m at least a little more likely to pray and a lot less likely to turn to my phone for idle distraction when I have a few free minutes. In fact, I’ve often pulled my phone out, realized I don’t expect any urgent emails or need to open any apps, and just put it away. I’m far more aware of the ways that my smartphone becomes a distraction and barrier, even if I know there is always a lot of room for growth.
Who knows, maybe a year from now I’ll just trash all of these ideas, delete my social media accounts, and buy a flip phone.
Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book: