My one-and-a-half-year-old daughter cries. Seriously, she does. Not on Facebook, mind you, where her “persona” is one of an always happy, upbeat, people-and-animal loving child. But there we were in the middle of the night on Yom Kippur and she was screaming, just screaming like we had never heard her before
Now, I love to take pics of her unusual and unique behaviors with my iPhone, but I wasn’t getting out my phone for this (and not just because I had put it away for the holiday). Just like most people, I don’t use Facebook to post the bad, sad or uncomfortable things. I only post the good things, the upbeat things. Does that make me some kind of liar? A faker? An ‘actor?
I don’t think so. Because the “good things” do not add up to a mere “half truth”. Rather, they’re a “best truth,” they’re a vision of what I most want my life to be. And that makes Facebook — at least in large part — a spiritual practice for me. Yeah, a spiritual practice, friends. I know we’re used to seeing “the sky is falling” kind of stories about the terrible impact of social media on humans, especially children. I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed was clogged a few weeks ago with all the repostings of the Atlantic’s “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” story.
“The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives,” the author wrote,” from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household.”
I too believe that smartphones and the social media they give us access to wherever we go have radically changed the lives of teenagers (and all of us). But, unlike the author, I’m not so quick to assume that every change is for the bad. And, while I have been known to overuse my smartphone from time-to-time for sure, I also know it’s tremendously improved my life overall.
Take fatherhood. I was 54 years old when our daughter — my first child — was born. I was afraid, afraid, afraid. Afraid of a million things, including that I was just too old and tired to be a decent parent to this energetic, little, super-curious thing. I needed something to help ground me in the positive, maybe even a spiritual practice to help me find the awe — the “wow” of parenting, as my former rabbinical school classmate Danya Ruttenberg would say (Her book: “Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting”)
Most spiritual practices, whether they’re meditation or traditional Jewish three-times-a-day start by asking us to pay attention to something (just your own breath in many meditation practices). What I pay attention to is my daughter, looking for those special moments to raise up and cherish.
And, yeah, I record them in pics and videos that I post on Facebook, but that’s not really the main point for me. No, rather, it’s the very moment of cherishing, of recognizing that this is something really special I’m seeing when she is doing something like starting to walk for the first time. Because focusing on the moment of cherishing does the other big thing that spiritual practices tend to do — draw me into the now (not into the past or the future). By coming into the moment, I am able — if even for just a fraction of a second — to live particularly intensely, to live moments when I am capable of real awe, awe for the Blessed Holy One and the world the miraculous world the Holy One created.
But it also is about the past and the future on some levels. And the recording and the posting on Facebook itself is important. This is where we get to Facebook as prayer. What I post on Facebook is real. It’s not a lie. It’s not acting. Or, if it is acting, it’s like the classic Stanislavski method (where actors use their own genuine experiences and emotions to inhabit the character they are presenting). What I’m posting is real. Really, real. It starts with what I really believe and am, and to that — and this is the prayer part — I add a bit of hope, maybe even petition. That is what most prayer is about, after all. Expressions of hope, requests for the Holy One’s mercy and attention. So, what you see of my family on Facebook is what I really pray we are and can be.
In Judaism, classic prayer is always in the plural — in the “we” voice. Modim anahnu lach — thankful are we to you — we say in every amidah prayer. The Jewish way is to share the things we pray for by praying communally, all with the same words in the “we” voice. That way, we lift each other up.
So, I share my Facebook prayers, too. I hope my genuine vision of what’s best and most amazing about our little family’s life together will help bring a small piece of our joy to others and help them feel a part of what we are. Maybe, for some, the story of a man who found a family for himself late in life will be an inspiration to hope and strive for what they want and need, even when it feels “too late”.
On Sukkot, we are commanded to be joyful. I was long troubled by the idea that we could be commanded to be joyful and I spent much time thinking about what joy really means in the context of Judaism. My Facebook life provides some of the answer. The fact that others may see what I post and enjoy is an inspiration to me to not only record the joyful moments, but to actually create them — both for my benefit and the benefit of others who may see my posts. In a sense, I feel that others command me to post, and to have things worth posting.
And, so, as tired as I was in the days between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, I found the energy to find a place for my family to spend half a day on our way to the North where we would be spending Yom Kippur. My Facebook spiritual practice, in part, inspired me to do this. And what a beautiful place we found by the sea just north of Zikhron Yaakov. There was definitely joy there. I was glad to feel commanded to find it.