On Christmas Eve, my wife and youngest daughter attended an elegant candlelight communion service. Another one of our daughters and her husband were part of the beautiful music ensemble: daughter in the choir, son-in-law co-leading with acoustic guitar. Traditional carols were sung by all, along with short pastoral messages about the meanings of each.
At the pinnacle of the night, the anticipation kindled by the candles received when we entered was realized as the lights were dimmed, and ushers lit the candles on the end of each row. As we passed our flames to each other, the holy moment was punctuated by a performance of a world-renowned brass player who shared the most beautiful arrangement of O Holy Night I can remember. My heart was full.
However, two seats down from me (daughter in the middle), my wife experienced a completely different moment. Her participation in the sacred was obscured by Secondhand Social Media (SHSM).
The woman in the row in front of us was so excited upon seeing her kids with their candles lit that she got out her phone, took many pictures her kids’ glowing faces, then posted them on social media. She then showed the posts to her kids. All while the sweet, heavenly brass tones soared with O night, Divine! Oh night, Oh night Divine!
She missed it. Her kids missed it. Everyone around her missed it. Even those who saw the photos on social media missed it. The photos didn’t communicate transcendence.
Think of the effort involved to create that moment; the musicians, the pastors, the technical team, the building staff, the decorators. The planning meetings, the choir practices. Before that were years of study, composition, the lifelong work of the brass player. Ultimately, the birth of Christ over 2,000 years ago. All culminating in a moment shared by hundreds of people on a Christmas Eve afternoon to share a holy reverence for the coming of the Christ.
But for this screen-dominated woman, the first thought of a potentially transcendent experience was: Gotta post this on Instagram!
And in do doing, she and her children were teleported out of the holy present and into the virtual world that can only trivialize the holy.
There are stories of primitive native cultures who wouldn’t allow themselves to be photographed because they thought photography would steal their souls. Maybe they weren’t far off.
If you miss the transcendent because you’re thinking about posting it on some device, you need to know something: you want to do this because you’ve been manipulated to want to do it.
Social media did this to you. Your screen had an agenda that triumphed over Christmas, over the sacred, over the special. You missed it because of the siren’s call to divert your attention to a screen instead of to the present moment.
I’m not okay with being manipulated like that, are you? I want to be present and available and ready to hear and see and participate in the miracles of life that are happening all around me.
While researching for my new book, I learned many of the strategies used against us, which steal our freedom to think and plan and decide and act by robbing us of the present moment. It’s all intentionally designed to do what it does. Fear of missing out (FOMO) makes us miss what’s really important.
If some screen caused you to miss Christmas, I hope this knowledge will challenge you to break free next year. I’d love to help you.
And maybe next Christmas Eve, public performances should ban Secondhand Social Media.