Non-Religious Christian Spirituality

nothing is a feeling too

Someone sent this to me in email the other day–one of those syndicated sort of messages:

“The relational dynamic with God is mysterious, personal, intimate, lively, and vibrant. Some days it’s effervescent; other days it’s serious. There are times in our relationship with God when we want to worship Him radically, to explode with adoration for Him. Other times we’re drawn to lie on our faces and be still in His presence. Some days He wants us to get out of the prayer room and go do something. Other days He wants us to stop being busybodies and sit down and chill out. Don’t ask me why He wants what He wants. The Christian life involves a mysterious, relational dynamic with a loving God, and lots of people have trouble navigating its ambiguities. But we are like Him, and He is like us—more than we might think.”

I was thinking how pervasive is the explicit and implied message today in the church and religious/spiritual circles that we need to be feeling God’s presence and action in our lives. That feeling him is the actual indicator of his presence. The truth is, some days you feel…nothing at all.
Is that acceptable? Is the non-feeling of God the indication that something is wrong with our relationship with him?

Yes, it’s acceptable. And no, it’s no indication that anything is wrong. In fact, the non-feeling is really the essential part of the process. This is important for us to understand because it can be the source of so much grief, personal recrimination, and distraction. The spiritual journey is actually an unfelt process. We don’t “feel” things of the spirit, because they reside below human emotions and thoughts. But often the spiritual breaks through and out into the emotions and cognition, and there we are, feeling something. And it can be wonderful. But the spiritual process is cooking along whether we feel it or not, if that is our desire, and we are pursuing God earnestly in our lives. As Thomas Keating says in his book, Invitation to Love, “We don’t have to feel it, but we do have to practice it.”

The ancient church always understood this. They considered emotional responses, and charisms/gifts of the spirit to be “consolations,” felt responses that the new believer needed to begin the journey–a honeymoon of sorts. As the person matured spiritually, those consolations faded, the training wheels removed so faith could function as it should–without a safety net. So there is the spiritual process, and there are emotional responses, and there are gifts of the spirit. The confusing part is that they can and often do occur together, but they are not one and the same thing. And emotions and gifts of the spirit are certainly no indication of spiritual growth or maturity. Think for a moment. We see very young people expressing emotion in religious settings and performing spiritual gifts, with little or no spiritual maturity. Sometimes the gifts occur spontaneously in someone completely unprepared spiritually. Conversely, we see older people who’ve dedicated their lives to God for decades, with little or no felt responses or manifested gifts.

Emotions and gifts and spiritual connection seems to have gotten connected as romantic notions of love became more culturally pervasive after the Renaissance, but it’s essential to de-link these parts of our lives. Why? Because often we make emotional ecstasy and spiritual gifts the proof of our or others’ spiritual status. We put pressure on ourselves and burdens on others. Or we end up chasing the emotional highs or spectacular gifts for their own sake–becoming emotional junkies–rather than seeking the true spiritual identity of our Father. In fact, the ancient church traditionally looked at spiritual gift with suspicion, as a realization that the more spectacular the gift, the harder for the person to remain humble, which the church understood was much more important.

Seek first the Kingdom and all else will be added. What may be added are beautiful emotions and gifts. Cause for celebration. But let’s remember that the Kingdom to Jesus is simply the awareness of God’s presence in this moment through our identification with his Spirit. That’s what we seek. And it’s very quiet and still. And it needs no visible means of support. And provides none. As it should be.

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2 responses

  1. Grendal

    Fascinating! I attended a “men’s retreat” with a local church which had no published agenda or schedule. Our theme was “Spirit to spirit” and it was about just what you are saying, that we should seek The Spirit, NOT the feelings & emotions, lets we focus on trying to “get the feelings” to prove we’ve had an encounter with The Spirit. It was a life changing (for the better) retreat and if you ask anyone who knows me I usually HATE retreats! This was just before my pastor took a sabbatical, and he was desperately trying to communicate to us how through faith in our faithful God we are assured of His presence, felt or unfelt. – Thanks DB! This theme continues to resonate!
    -g

    October 5, 2005 at 4:17 pm

  2. Deb

    that was so needed something drew me to this web site tonight ive listened to your station forever. my life and family have been going throug so much the past few years and ive been finding myself wondering why? i stopped praying for awhile because it only depressed me more when praying was only a reminderof how awful things have become. then i felt detached not only from my life, but from God. that is when i realized just how much God has been there step by step keeping me from going insane. I have 6 kids and 2 stepdaughters yes total of 8. My husband turns out to not be as much of a Christian as he made out to be 6 years ago. so there is sucha struggle. To makea long story short thank you for letting me feel like its okay to feel whatever and He wont leave me

    March 16, 2006 at 9:17 pm

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