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When Jesus came close to his death, he no longer could experience God’s presence. He cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:47). Still in love he held on to the truth that God was with him and said: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
The loneliness of the cross led Jesus to the resurrection. As we grow older we are often invited by Jesus to follow him into this loneliness, the loneliness in which God is too close to be experienced by our limited hearts and minds. When this happens, let us pray for the grace to surrender our spirits to God as Jesus did.
“…in the poetry of Helen Losse, I catch the same echoes of hope and calls for patience, long-suffering, and endurance as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings on the subject of the opposition that he frequently experienced on his journey to civil rights. On the subject of hope, King said: ‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.””
“It is fitting that many of her poems echo the same strains of optimism and admonitions to better ourselves even in the midst of our trials, and to persevere. After all, she wrote her Master’s thesis on the redemptive value of unmerited suffering in the life and works of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Wake Forest University. In many regards, one could say that Seriously Dangerous is an opus to her thesis.”
In the spiritual life we have to make a distinction between two kinds of loneliness. In the first loneliness, we are out of touch with God and experience ourselves as anxiously looking for someone or something that can give us a sense of belonging, intimacy, and home. The second loneliness comes from an intimacy with God that is deeper and greater than our feelings and thoughts can capture.
We might think of these two kinds of loneliness as two forms of blindness. The first blindness comes from the absence of light, the second from too much light. The first loneliness we must try to outgrow with faith and hope. The second we must be willing to embrace in love.
Sometimes we experience a terrible dryness in our spiritual life. We feel no desire to pray, don’t experience God’s presence, get bored with worship services, and even think that everything we ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is little more than a childhood fairy tale.
Then it is important to realise that most of these feelings and thoughts are just feelings and thoughts, and that the Spirit of God dwells beyond our feelings and thoughts. It is a great grace to be able to experience God’s presence in our feelings and thoughts, but when we don’t, it does not mean that God is absent. It often means that God is calling us to a greater faithfulness. It is precisely in times of spiritual dryness that we must hold on to our spiritual discipline so that we can grow into new intimacy with God.
Our temperaments – whether flamboyant, phlegmatic, introverted, or extroverted – are quite permanent fixtures of our personalities. Still, the way we “use” our temperaments on a daily basis can vary greatly. When we are attentive to the Spirit of God within us, we will gradually learn to put our temperaments in the service of a virtuous life. Then flamboyancy gives great zeal for the Kingdom, phlegmatism helps to keep an even keel in times of crisis, introversion deepens the contemplative side, and extroversion encourages creative ministry.
Let’s live with our temperaments as with gifts that help us deepen our spiritual lives.
Even though our emotional and spiritual lives are distinct, they do influence one another profoundly. Our feelings often give us a window on our spiritual journeys. When we cannot let go of jealousy, we may wonder if we are in touch with the Spirit in us that cries out “Abba.” When we feel very peaceful and “centered,” we may come to realise that this is a sign of our deep awareness of our belovedness.
Likewise our prayer lives, lived as faithful response to the presence of the Spirit within us, may open a window on our emotions, feelings, and passions and give us some indication of how to put them into the service of our long journey into the heart of God.
Our emotional lives and our spiritual lives have different dynamics. The ups and downs of our emotional life depend a great deal on our past or present surroundings. We are happy, sad, angry, bored, excited, depressed, loving, caring, hateful, or vengeful because of what happened long ago or what is happening now.
The ups and downs of our spiritual lives depend on our obedience – that is, our attentive listening – to the movements of the Spirit of God within us. Without this listening our spiritual life eventually becomes subject to the windswept waves of our emotions.
The emotional life says, “Shit happens,” to which the spiritual life responds, “And God is still on the Throne.”
Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God’s air. Work, if you can, under His sky.
Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. (New York: New Directions Books), p 56
Are we condemned to be passive victims of our moods? Must we simply say: “I feel great today” or “I feel awful today,” and require others to live with our moods?
Although it is very hard to control our moods, we can gradually overcome them by living a well-disciplined spiritual life. This can prevent us from acting out of our moods. We might not “feel” like getting up in the morning because we “feel” that life is not worth living, that nobody loves us, and that our work is boring. But if we get up anyhow, to spend some time reading the Gospels, praying the Psalms, and thanking God for a new day, our moods may lose their power over us.
And yes, I do realize that this is easier for some people than others and that there is a line that can be crossed when people need professional help with their mood swings. This applies to those of us who are presently within the “normal” range.
Our emotional lives move up and down constantly. Sometimes we experience great mood swings: from excitement to depression, from joy to sorrow, from inner harmony to inner chaos. A little event, a word from someone, a disappointment in work, many things can trigger such mood swings. Mostly we have little control over these changes. It seems that they happen to us rather than being created by us.
Thus it is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God’s beloved children.