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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

No, but how do you FEEL?

From Conversion Diary a post about the "Great Nothing" we sometimes get in our (out of our?) prayer.
Or really, the Nothing that we feel.

What is significant is not that the pray-er realized that it's all right not to "feel" God near, but that by allowing her to not feel the feeling she sought, He allowed her to understand Him, Who Am in a much more profound and important way.
Her "fickle emotions change not a single thing about God."
[At Adoration during a retreat] I gazed up at the monstrance on the altar....
If I were ever going to have a religious experience, it would be here.

... I grabbed a couple Kleenex from the box next to me for when my own powerful experience began. As regular readers know, God rarely speaks to me so clearly as when I'm in Adoration ...and it seemed inevitable that going to Adoration in such a beautiful chapel surrounded by such God-loving women at such a Christ-centered retreat would leave me open to the Lord's promptings as never before. I crossed myself, prayed, gazed at the monstrance, and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I felt nothing, I heard nothing, so I said another prayer asking God to speak to me. I even did that thing where I make my inner chatterbox shut up for a minute so that I can just listen and see where the Lord seems to be leading my thoughts. Still nothing. My thoughts were only led to the facts that I had a slight headache and the room was cold.

When I looked up at the monstrance, I did not sense the Lord's presence at all. If I am to be totally honest, my gut reaction was, "That really does look like it's just a wafer."

I leaned back in the pew, tucking my Kleenex into my pocket since I obviously wouldn't be needing it...
I waited for the inevitable frustration to bubble up within me... but it never came.

I felt fine. Actually, I felt great. I might not have had the pleasant emotions I wanted, but I had something else...perhaps, to my surprise, something even better.

It occurred to me that the knowledge and experiences God has given me over the past few years, along with the grace of the sacraments, has left me in a place that is best described not in terms of belief versus doubt, but simply in terms of awareness.... I've been brought to a place where I no longer even think of it in terms of whether or not God exists -- "exists" being a weak word with an obvious antonym, implying that nonexistence is possible. To say that something "exists" usually has the unspoken implication of a transitory state, since every material thing in the universe will eventually cease to exist. Duck-billed platypuses exist; spiral galaxies exist; I exist. The English language doesn't have a proper word to describe the state of being of God, who always was and always will be, who is more real than reality, other than to simply say that God is.

I realized that this relatively new understanding of God gave me a certain kind of joy. [emphasis in original] ... it was the calm, steady, quiet joy borne of knowledge of the truth. In place of the feelings I might have hoped for, I felt a great freedom -- an emancipation from emotion.

Who knows why I couldn't hear God's voice or feel his presence the way I often do in Adoration: maybe I was too tired, maybe it was the headache, maybe there was a reason God wasn't speaking to me the same way he usually does. But a smile spread across my face when I realized it didn't matter, and it never would. I don't know why it had never occurred to me until that moment, but there in that pew I could finally appreciate just how liberating it is to know that my fickle emotions change not a single thing about God. So often I had often carried with me, hidden in the back of my mind, a worry about future spiritual dry spells. "What if I don't feel God at work in my life next week? What if I face a problem and it doesn't seem like God is there? What if I go to Adoration and I don't feel anything?" My whole body physically relaxed as I let those worries pour out of me.

As I looked up at what looked like just a wafer in the monstrance, again feeling nothing inside, I felt the quiet peace, the silent joy of being able to rest in the knowledge that its power comes not from how I feel about, but from what -- or, rather who -- it is. I basked in the presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament and all around me, aware of him not because I felt him, but because he was there.
This understanding is a great gift she has been given.
I find that widespread sacramental understanding is deficient, is severely damaged by the fetishization of feelings.
No, I cannot see into anyone else's mind or heart, but time and again in liturgy planning (it all get back to Liturgy, for you, doesn't it? yes, it does,) the reasons advanced for musical choices or requests are "the way it makes me feel."

The power of the Sacraments to make God Present is independent of our perceptions, yet the emphasis in the presentation of the Rites seems to be on the feelings and actions and responsibilities of the recipient or of the community, there is no understanding of ex opere operato.
In Baptism we make people feel welcome, in Communion sing and walk and stand together to signify and to increase our feelings of solidarity with our fellow communicants, in Confirmation we become fully-fledged members, in the Reconciliation Service we support and encourage each other to get past our feelings of brokenness and of guilt.

A Kander and Ebb song about love, the about Real Thing, the quiet thing, is running through my head.
How many of us do look for crashes of thunder in the Presence?
When it all comes true... you'd think you'd hear a choir sing; it's funny but the bells don't ring -- there are no exploding fire works, roaring of the crowds... and yes, we are granted the immeasurable privilege to hold the entire world in our trembling hands.

Be content with that.

Be still.

1 comment:

Mary Jane said...

"Festishisation of feelings" - I like that. I like it alot.

It's all about the will. And Therese of Lisieux said that her consolation was to have no consolation.

If it was good enough for her ....

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