I’ve been feeling restless and living in the tension between my thoughts and feelings this week.
Recently I’ve been reading more scholarly books, mostly on theology, which have been feeding my intellectual side. I’ve learned a lot and felt feed in my growing understanding of orthodox Christianity. Good stuff. However, I also feel a growing distance from my emotions. The more I’m “in my head” trying to make connections between ideas, or composing something for my blog, the more I feel disconnected from the tender moments, that is, from my feelings. Basically, the more importance I place on thoughts, the more they distract me from (in the words of The Happiness Trap) my observing self or practicing mindfulness.
It’s funny, actually. Now that I’ve had more direct experience of my life through being in touch with my emotions, I don’t like the feeling of being disconnected. For years, I lived in my thoughts and found great comfort in that place. I suppose it’s a sign of growth that being disconnected doesn’t fit or feel right anymore.
I’ve been feeling this disconnection from my faith too. Relying on Christ in daily life isn’t the same as learning about theological explanations of Christ’s work in the world. There’s great value in both, but for me, surrendering and cultivating my understanding of Christianity are different practices.
Once again, I found great solace in the work of Fr. Rolheiser. In Forgotten Among the Lilies he has a chapter called “Celebrating Our Alphabet” about the spectrum of feelings and thoughts we experience and how they’re honored through the liturgy. He says:
Our psyches go up and down. We have seasons and days of enthusiasm, bounce, joyfulness. Sometimes we feel like singing and dancing. Sometimes there is a spring in our step.
But we have other seasons too, cold seasons, bland seasons, seasons of tiredness, pain, illness, boredom. We try to get one foot in front of the next. If prayer is lifting heart and mind to God then clearly during those times we should be lifting something other than song and dance…. (p. 179)
When we come to celebrate we bring the alphabet of our lives. If our hearts and minds are full of warmth, love, enthusiasm, song and dance, then these are the letters we bring.
If they are full of tiredness, despair, blandness, pain and boredom, then those are our letters. Bring them. Spend them. Celebrate them. Offer them. It is God’s task to make the words! (p. 180)
From that list, blandness is what I’m relating to most this week. Not anxiety, not pain, certainly not despair. Just a lack of enthusiasm. The urge to fight this blandness, rather than accept it is what has typically brought on anxiety for me. So, again, it feels like growth that I’m accepting the blandness, rather than actively fighting it.
How blessed we are to have faith in Christ who experienced the full range of human emotions and accepts us, just where we are. How comforting to have a loving Father to embrace, no matter what my thoughts or feelings.
Returning to Rolheiser’s words, he describes the restlessness that burns as fire within us:
To be a human being is to be on fire for a consummation, a restfulness, a love, a symphony which, in this life, perpetually escapes us. In every cell of our bodies and in every area of our minds and hearts there is a fire, a restless ache, a burning for someone or something we have not yet experienced…
Moreover, this fire, this relentless restlessness, does not necessarily suggest that somehow we are living wrongly. Its source is our own depth, the infinite caverns of our minds and hearts…
Our choice is not between restlessness and restfulness, but between two kinds of restlessness, between two kinds of fire… We are destined to be consumed by one kind of fire or another, but the flames are very different – God’s flames or those of our own choosing.
… what is meant is that we must widen our longings, deepen our aches, raise further still our psychic temperatures so that we burn precisely for the final consummation, the final symphony, God’s kingdom. (p. 24-25)
This passage brought me such peace when I first read it. Finally, words to describe my feelings! I so appreciate the way Rolheiser describes the restlessness impacting both our minds and hearts. Of course life on earth involves a burning ache. We were made for full communion with God and we will rest when we rest in Him.