The sacred and the profane

As some readers of this blog know, I have what is considered a rather serious visual impairment. This reality has made for an interesting and rather unusual life, and an interesting journey to ordained ministry. One of the “reasonable accommodations” in my life as a transitional deacon is the use of my laptop computer (a Mac of course) as a Gospel book. My husband designed a really cool cover for it with the four evangelists against a black background. I carry it in procession just like a gospel book, and then flip it sideways and open for the subdeacon or crucifer to hold. I once even used it at a friend’s ordination – including censing it. I put the week’s Gospel reading on it in huge text (close to 2 inches tall) and I scroll as I proclaim the Gospel in the midst of the people. It works really well and my parishioners think it’s pretty cool. At some point I hope to use an iPad instead (and by then I’ll hopefully be priested and using it as an altar book) but it’s what I have for now. 

I bring this up because I want to tell a story, and you need that background for it to make sense.

The thing about using my computer as a Gospel book has been that I’ve never been 100% comfortable with the idea. I’ve tried to act as confident as possible using it in public, and I’ve had lots of conversations with people about the sacred and the profane and whether it matters which technology we use as long as the Gospel is proclaimed. Still, while my macbook has been a Gospel book on Sunday mornings, it’s also my personal computer. I check my email on it. I use it for facebook, online shopping, watching clips on cnn, watching the silly youtube video of the week, etc. I used it to takes notes in seminary classes – and to chat online with friends (sometimes those sitting right next to me!) when classes got tedious or boring. It hasn’t exactly been “set aside” for worship in the traditional sense. That has always made me a bit squeamish about the whole thing.

Recently something happened that, for me at least, may have finally made me comfortable with its use for both the sacred and the profane. The situation is so unique that I’m going to have to give you only the sketchiest of details in order to protect the privacy of the patient involved. Here’s what I can tell you: I recently met a young patient that has experienced a sudden, almost total hearing loss due to a serious medical condition. For a number of reasons I felt like a brief visit where I tried to be friendly and scribbled a short conversation on a notepad was not adequate for this patient’s situation. So I wrote the patient a note that explained the role of a chaplain, and that I’d like to bring in my laptop and see if by typing we could have a more detailed conversation. The patient agreed to the idea and we tried it. 

I pulled a chair up next to the patient’s bed, as close as I could get, facing the same direction as the patient. I had already set up a word document with really big font, both so I could see it and so the patient could see over my shoulder. For over an hour, I typed and the patient talked. It was a bit awkward to have to turn to make eye contact. Small talk, which usually provides a bit of a break between harder conversation topics, didn’t come as easily as it would in a normal conversation. There is so much more I wish I had said or asked, but under the circumstances things seemed to work really well. Twice I asked the patient if it was okay to keep going, and both times the answer was yes. When the conversation was over I asked if I could pray, and the patient said yes, please type the prayer. So I did. As the patient watched, I composed a prayer, trying to use the same sort of style I would if I spoke it out loud. I wondered for a bit if the prayer was working, if it felt real to the patient. At the end, when I typed “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and the patient made the sign of the cross, I knew it had been a real prayer. 

And that is the story of why, after all of these months, I finally feel like my laptop has become not just a tool I use in many settings, but a sacred object.


~ by Sophia on March 14, 2010.

4 Responses to “The sacred and the profane”

  1. That is a WONDERFUL story!

    I thought about you and your “gospel book” when the iPad was launched!

    Do you know when you will be priested?

  2. Good job, and a very creative outside the box solution. Hang onto that creativity as you move forward in parish life — you just might need it someday.

  3. You’re brilliant. What a great idea. It’s amazing how the holy spirit blesses us!

  4. I’m just figuring out that you moved! Would you like to add this new blog to RevGalBlogPals? Let me know at Thanks!

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