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hurry! jesus now live online
blessed sacrament webcamIt has become the Holy Grail of online time-wasting. Ship of Fools bulletin board member Rossweisse celebrates two years of watching the truly Blessed Sacrament Webcam in Florida, USA.

In December 2004, Ship of Fools bulletin board member Ken from London posted something that permanently changed our online time-wasting habits: a link to the Blessed Sacrament Webcam, featuring "Jesus live online."

The Blessed Sacrament Webcam (or BSW) is an idiosyncratic outreach of the Community of the Monks of Adoration – two monks living in community at St Joseph the Worker Monastery in Englewood, on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Any claim to have "Jesus live online" is a startling one, and demands an unusually literal understanding of the real presence of Jesus Christ: that the bread and wine, once consecrated by a priest, becomes the literal body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation. It's kept in a tabernacle (or "Jesus's house," to Shippies) near the altar, the focus of the BSW.

To judge by the comment page of the community's website, however, many faithful Christians log on there to seek and find a genuine sense of sanctity and uplift.

Ship of Fools, is, of course, devoted to Christian unrest, and our approach on the bulletin board thread discussing it all has been considerably less reverent. In the beginning, there was the novelty value of it all. The webcam, mounted in a makeshift chapel in a rented house, brought the real-time ("updated every minute 24 hours a day") view of the tabernacle and altar beneath an artistically undistinguished portrait of Christ and his sacred heart into our homes and offices.

blessed sacrament webcamAt first, just that sight was enough for us. Soon, though, we yearned for more. As bulletin board member Spiffy da WonderSheep said: "Sirs, we would see Jesus!" (with due acknowledgment to the Gospel of John). The occasional vision of a gloriously spiky monstrance (a golden container with a little window for the consecrated bread, or host) set out on the altar was a thrill. Then, the elect began catching the occasional sight of a monk – or a presumed monk: the oft-spotted "T-Shirt Man" was assumed to be a brother in civvies.

Then the ultimate prize – a screen grab of a monk in action – became a mild obsession. Those blessed enough to witness such moment in history forwarded their prizes to BSW devotee Ann, who helpfully assembled pages of low-fidelity photos for the faithful. That didn't make those of us who failed to see monks for ourselves feel much better, but it did silence the Doubting Thomases and Thomasinas who questioned the very existence of monks.

Even after the initial flurry of interest died down, a faithful remnant continued to keep an eye, propped up by a matchstick, on the BSW. That faith was sorely tested for many months, from the time the monks shut down their old chapel upon moving until finally, more than half a year after the promised reboot date, they got the new one consecrated and put Jesus back into his house.

They didn't even own up to using a still shot until the complaint level on the Ship forum got too strident to ignore. Although we've never had confirmation that the monks – or "munx," as they're sometimes fondly known – read the thread, the number of shipmates who have contributed to their building fund makes it unlikely they're unaware of our interest. We offer (mostly) constructive criticism, much of it currently aimed at the dismal unpainted cinderblocks in their new chapel, and, as it was in the beginning and possibly forever shall be, at the monks' reluctance to let Jesus out on schedule.

The BSW has inspired some memorable posts: Callan's trailer for a movie called The Italian Mission Job, Anglicanrascal's delicious takeoff on The Da Vinci Code, Ancient Mariner's offer of a free Ned Flanders air freshener to the first person to capture a monk on camera, light-hearted discussions of tat, the revelation that the chapel may actually be Pearl B4 Swine's basement laundry room, and tons of witty repartee.

Although I confess I have yet to see a monk (I am evidently not sufficiently pure of heart), the existence of the BSW has stopped me from asking, "Can any good thing come out of Florida?" Despite the humorous tone of the thread, most of us who watch the webcam are Christians who believe in the real presence. We're not about to genuflect to our computer monitors, but there's more here than simple amusement.

I asked Margaret, whose posted joy upon her first monk sighting was palpable, why she logs on to the Blessed Sacrament Webcam.

"There's something compelling about the complete absence of action most of the time – perhaps it's a paradigm of the spiritual life?," she writes. "Nothing happens for ages, you feel like giving up, you decide to have a look after all, and suddenly there's Jesus! Or if not Himself, then a glimpse of a monk, or the realisation that they've replaced the candles, something to persuade you you're not just fooling yourself. Then it all goes back to being silent and empty, or filled with sulphurous fumes as it seems to be at the moment – what have they done with the lighting? – but your faith has been renewed, and you go back to living in hope."

Long live the munx and their ministries, and may they be moved to show us the monstrance more often.

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