Some of us have, for the moment at least, sufficiently made our point. We can not abide a robotic faith where difficult questions or deep anxieties are met with silence, rebuke or prayer-circle interventions. We have been worn to the existential bone with the hypocrisy we believe others demand of us when we are expected to apply our happy face and chirp a few cliches, often set to peppy tunes. We will not play the game. We will be (as we repeatedly remind ourselves and others) authentic.
The difficulty is that, in our move toward being real (whatever that means), we’ve often merely traded one false self for another false self. In our previous world, we felt there was no space for our humanness, our individuality, our emotions and inner life. To whatever degree this was the reality hoisted upon us, we are right to resist. We are whole beings, and our whole self matters. In the new world where we’ve shed these shackles, however, we are often ruled by what we feel, by whether our prayers feel vibrant or our worship feels truthful. We sit immobilized when we hear the Psalmist’s invitation to “praise the Lord all [our] life.” Praise is not an emotion; it is a declaration.
There are many days when I don’t feel the electricity of love for Miska (or she for me), but I announce my love to her, live my love toward her, nonetheless. And I’m not being inauthentic. Quite the opposite, I’m demonstrating that my love runs far deeper than my whims or confusions. I have promised fidelity. This is the ground of truth. When I don’t feel love’s energy, I should pay attention in order to keep a check on the state of my heart toward her, but this poverty doesn’t define what is true. Some days, my feelings are simply going to have to figure out how to keep up.
Our feelings, all the complexities of our story and our interior selves, are affirmed in the Psalms, honored in the prayers of the prophets and apostles, and blessed in the Incarnation where Divinity became fully human. However, our feelings are not God. Only God is God. As Barth said, “Let us set aside our investigation of God. God searches us. Our mind is never right.” To give no heed to what we feel or think or the many ways we struggle and plod along is to dishonor the God who created us. However, to give ultimate authority to these realities is to bow at the feet of another god.
Feelings are important in judging the condition of our heart or how we are engaging God and others. However, they don’t always tell us the truth about ourselves, God or others. Attentiveness to our feelings is essential to tell us where our heart is, but they are not always trustworthy to tell us where God is. Only God can do that.
This is why we pray with the Church. This is why we surrender to the stories of our God’s actions across history and geography. This is why we break bread with friends and laugh and dance under the moon and become peacemakers and feast with the poor. This is why we hope for good and commit ourselves to joy and why we have plenty of space for our tears. We do all this because God has come to us in Jesus Christ, and Jesus has taught us that this life is the life God has for us. Whether we feel it or not.