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I am always inspired at this time of year by the variety of buds and blooms that are popping up around us on trees, brush and flowers. They are varied in color, size and fragrance. There are so many and so much diversity that it reminds me how complex the web of life can be. Since lent is a time of reflection I have been prodded by the Spirit toward a theme that I have noticed each week blooming in our walk toward resurrection and renewal through the scripture. It is the incredible canopy of emotions that are expressed throughout these texts. This week alone we can stand with the crowd experiencing their jubilation as they cheer on the one that they think will be king as they rally him into Jerusalem.
Of course there are more emotions that have crept up throughout these 40 days. When I went back and reflected and reread the lectionary texts that we have used this season I was shocked to encounter a full dose of human emotions. This full array of included: fear, laughter, joy, anger, frustration, longing, love, humiliation, excitement, disgust, satisfaction, happiness and distrust.
There are two reasons that I think that this is so surprising to me devotionally. First, I think it is because of my own stunted and limited emotions that I miss a huge amount of their display in the texts present for my edification. Second, I think that I have stunted my ability to be emotional when encountering biblical texts so that I do not feel them. Yet, I know that I am not alone.
In over a decade in the pastorate and two decades of leadership in the church I have noticed this to be a consistent trend of congregations and individuals having very limited emotional responses in worship and faith. This has even occurred when I was worshipping in the so-called “emotional” churches that are Pentecostal and Charismatic. It occurred to me that maybe we are a stunted faith, one that does not value cultivating the full array of human emotions to accompany our life and spiritual journey. This made me have a very distinct emotion: fear.
Those with deep-seated psychological problems are completely cut off from the emotional responses that help them cope with the challenges and victories of day-to-day living. Sometimes I think the church is trying to either be too cerebral or to inspiring instead of turning people toward abundant lives.
Last week I viewed an exhibition at the National Gallery called “The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700” in the East Gallery. This was quite a powerful time period in religious artwork. It was when the European Catholic church tried to revitalize its members and to counter the growing threat of the Protestant revolution in the church.
These amazingly realistic paintings and polychrome sculptures relayed deeply emotional stories. St. John of the Cross looks longingly into the sky with a book of his poetry in his hand that springs into a mountain, Mary Magdalene meditates on a wooden crucifix and here expression is one of deep empathy, Christ as the Man of Sorrows is so graphic that the expression of suffering accompanies the slashes, blood and bruises, Two pieces show St. Francis in intense ecstasy and Christ on the Cross displays Christ’s resignation to his own death. Since the emotions were so clear, they became powerful pieces when put in rooms together. To look at them in a purely analytical way would have been inappropriate for their purpose, it was to bring about devotion and contemplation.
The only pieces devoid of human emotion in these works are of Christ when he is dead. There he lies limp on the lap of his mother Mary. His lifeless form is a stark contrast to her pain, desperation and loss. Even in death we are shown something important about emotion.
It appears to me that same type of reflection, contemplation and devotion is required of us as we encounter ourselves through the lens of scripture this lent and beyond. From the beginning to the end Christ’s ministry is meant to be something about life. He declares, “I came so that you might have live and to have it more abundantly!” How can that life be one devoid of all the emotions that are created inside of us to live? When we read texts from the psalms that exhort us to laughter and joy how can we passively observe the text? How can we avoid being swept up in the crowd’s rushing emotions as their Hosanna’s are screamed, their cheers ring out and their palms wave in celebration? Especially knowing the foreboding death that Christ must suffer is looming as tragedy over this singing parade?
Still, it is not good enough to merely be an emotional person. If all the emotions that we display are fear, anger or happiness then we have not cultivated emotions enough to survive a life of faith. To be fully alive we must not only begin to cultivate as many emotions as our human brains conjure up but to identify them in the moment. This will help change anger into joy, sadness into empathy and apathy into celebration. We can live or we can deaden the emotional environment in which we inhabit. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste a moment anesthetizing myself against life.
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