Two weeks ago, the Fisks had a long discussion about grief on Stop The White Noise, noting that bereavement hits people differently and comes in many forms. A number of comments and letters we received indicated that people truly appreciated the open conversation and the acknowledgement that grief is never “one and done” – it lasts a long time and comes in waves. While each person must mourn in their own way, when it comes to grief, the only way out is through.
It is easily observed that our modern culture contains a certain dissonance in its attitude toward emotions. From one vantage point, we seem obsessed with reason, data and facts – the cold hard “head knowledge”. After all, feelings aren’t facts, so they say. We pride ourselves that the wonders of civilization were built by “following The Science“. Yet log on to any social media platform and you will find a gaudy carnival of feelings, with folks emoting everywhere and online cheerleaders validating each outburst.
Scholar and author Michael Sacasas contemplates this topic in a brief Substack post. While recognizing the “Pavlovian” way in which algorithms have trained us to experience intense emotions online, he suggests that is not the only problem. He writes that a brief scroll through Twitter brings a kind of emotional whiplash: “In rapid succession the same feed brings to me the tragic and the comic as well as the trivial and the consequential”. But rather than assuming we feel too much – Sacasas proposes that maybe we don’t feel enough. Online life is associated with all “the feels”, but social media does not give us time to feel things as deeply as we need.
In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman broke down the ways in which television news, interspersed between commercial breaks, produces a similar phenomenon to what Sacasas is observing. We are presented news “without context, without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness”. Postman notes: “Viewers are rarely required to carry over any thought or feeling from one parcel of time to another.”
Sacasas offers an interesting aside in his piece when he wonders whether our contemporary use of the word “processing” is helpful when considering emotions. We understand that word to mean “seeing the sequential steps through to their end.” However, he hints that his discontent with the term is because there is something more mechanical than human in that term. Far from being useless placeholders until we can return to productive endeavors, emotions are part of our embodied existence. We feel things because God created us with souls, minds and also bodies.
Those who are following the Sons of Solomon practice of praying and reading the Psalms will be aware of the deep emotion poured out by the psalmists. Anger at the wicked. Longing for justice. Sorrow over sin. Love for the saints. Delight in the Word of God. Joy when he remembers the salvation of Jesus Christ. Yearning for the heavenly home…No skimming through the shallows for King David – that’s a well-rounded emotional life!
Our media ecosystem would have us multitask our emotional lives – feeling the prescribed things at the right times but never really engaging with any particular emotion long enough to observe it or be changed by it. Yet this is to be lead by the nose, allowing the white noise to move you how it pleases.
There is a time for everything under heaven, but we can walk through each season, knowing that the man of sorrows, a high priest who understands our weakness has traveled these same paths. The difference between reacting and responding may just be as Rev Fisk suggests – less inputs and more time for contemplation.