Ambient Intimacy & Spiritual Friendships

Kathryn Whitaker & Lisa Schmidt

Letter writing seems to be a thing of the past. For my part, other than writing an occasional thank you note or scribbling a short message to accompany a birthday card, I haven’t sat down with stationery and a pen in a very long time. I have something of a wistful romantic attachment to letter writing as a relic of a bygone era. I don’t want the elegant simplicity of a handwritten letter to become a lost art.

But thanks to things like mobile devices, personal blogs, and online social networks like Facebook and Twitter, I am able to keep in touch more than ever with family and friends throughout the world.

Ambient Intimacy

That’s the term to describe all this connectedness in our digital age. It was coined by blogger Leisa Reichelt.

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.

It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like. 

Knowing these details creates intimacy. (It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catch up with these people in real life!) It’s not so much about meaning, it’s just about being in touch.

The power of ambient intimacy is on my heart because I just got back from the 2012 Catholic New Media Conference. For the past week, I linked arms, hugged necks, and networked with other Catholic new media enthusiasts. Some I had met previously at last year’s conference; others I had only connected with via online networks. Most I will see face to face, at best, once a year. But in the interim, I stay connected with them through the likes of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. We share ambient intimacy.

Spiritual Friendships

I often ponder the letters of spiritual direction written and shared between St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. These two saints developed a great spiritual friendship through their exchange of written word. New media has fostered a growth of spiritual friendships in my life. I desire to stay connected with these friends because they are faithful Catholics, doing their part to share their love for Holy Mother Church. They spiritually feed me and fill a longing I didn’t even know I had. The spiritual friendships I have developed, with Catholic women and moms especially, are a gift. Used for good, new media ultimately leads me toward a relationship, an encounter, with Jesus.

Living in Communion

What’s more, there is a level of intimacy present with this group that I often don’t experience with others. We are made to live in communion — with the Father, Jesus and Mary, and the saints triumphant. Our hearts also desire communion with God’s family here on earth. Being engaged in Catholic new media brings me into communion with others.

While living in digital communion can foster ambient intimacy, it can also breed the opposite. Leisa Reichelt has coined the term ambient exposure to describe this experience. Writing from a Catholic lens, I sometimes share things that leave me feeling vulnerable and exposed. This vulnerability underscores the importance of having a net of spiritual friends to catch you when you feel like jumping off.

Developing spiritual friendships in this digital age is a topic I would like to explore in future posts. I’m curious. Has technology fostered a growth of spiritual friendships in your life? Does the term ambient intimacy resonate with you? Or does ambient exposure seem like a better fit?

I’m looking forward to learning from you.

Copyright 2012 Lisa Schmidt

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