orthodox spirituality


Here are some of the words that I have been hearing frequently: “I felt very good after I prayed,” “I felt God’s presence that night,” “I felt that God was opening doors,” “I don’t feel God anymore in my life,” “I’m looking for Him but I can’t feel Him,” “The church here doesn’t feel like…. (Fill in the blank)” etc.  On the other hand, these are some of the words that I have not heard recently: “I’m seeking guidance,” “I’m praying for discernment,” and “What’s the wise thing to do?”  These two sets of words are not contradictory, but it’s interesting to see that one list is almost disappearing and the other list is becoming much more frequently used. If anything, this shows that we have been focusing a lot on our feelings in our relationship with God, rather than on a holistic view of who we are, as created by God.
Man is created in the image and the likeness of God, carrying in him the image of the Logos, carrying in him wisdom and intelligence.  Man also has a soul and a body:  A soul through which we may feel happy, sad, broken, or uplifted; and a body through which the mind and the soul are contained and expressed. We somehow separate these elements but one can’t continue to look at them in segregation.  God created the whole man and redeemed him fully; He redeemed our souls and bodies. The focus on the feelings comes from a desire to feel good: to feel good about ourselves, our relationships, and even to feel good about our God. We have come to speak so much more about the grace of God rather than the wrath of God; we speak about the love of God rather than the fear of God. We want to speak about what makes us feel good. We have come to seek an experience, rather than God Himself; we have come to seek a spiritual emotional high, rather than seeking God Himself.  After all, if we can’t see Him, we have to at least feel Him.  
The focus on our feelings has become dangerous, because when we don’t feel God, we believe that there is a sin in our heart, which isn’t necessarily true. The opposite is even more dangerous, because when we feel God’s presence, we believe that all is well and that the heart is pure, when it could actually be filled with sin. The discovery of our sins, the impurities of the heart, and the uncleanliness of our senses has come to be driven by feelings not based on a spiritual conviction of the Holy Spirit, the words of the scriptures and the life of prayers.  While our “not feeling God” could give us a sense of abandonment, it could actually be a case of testing our faith, an opportunity of growth and a test of our persistence in prayers.  
Some people, Christians included, make important decisions driven mainly by their feelings, showing a lack of wisdom and experience.  Decisions concerning migration, relocation, marriage and relationships, as well as business opportunities are made based on feelings – “I felt that God was opening doors”. When we forsake wisdom, other people’s experiences and even our own logic, our feelings take over and we end up in a mess. It really baffles me that people choose to think that God is approving of something that goes against the scriptures, just because they feel good about it. We get ourselves into the wrong relationships and situations, even breaking the commandments, and because it feels good, we think it’s approved by God and even blessed by Him.
If we look at the Lord’s prayer to His Father in John 17, we find it very specific. Despite the difficulty of the moment, He didn’t speak much about His feelings; rather, He spoke about the union with the Father and the unity among the disciples. He prayed holistically; He prayed body, soul and mind. He prayed for all of us, and as we all ought to pray. Yes, He spoke of the love He shares with the Father and the love the disciples should have for each other, but this was not the ordinary feeling of love, but the love which is life-giving and which inspires action.  Even the prayer that He taught His disciples, which begins “Our Father…”, isn’t a prayer driven by feelings but a prayer filled with the fullness of humanity; heart, soul and mind.  It’s a very heavenly prayer, and yet a very realistic prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread”.
      It’s sad to say that some churches now plan for their worship to create an atmosphere that will move our emotions and feelings.  Sermons are preached with the intention of making us feel good, giving us something light so that we can leave happy. Of course, there is nothing wrong with worshiping God with our whole being; in fact, we are commanded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).  However, the problem lies in creating an environment specifically intended to play on our feelings.  A meeting which doesn’t include raised hands, tears, and bodies in motion during the worship might be considered not to be spiritually edifying. No one denies that some of us are more filled with emotions and feelings than others. We can see in the scriptures that Anna, the mother of Samuel, cried before the Lord, asking for a child; and King David, filled with feelings and emotions, danced before the Ark of the Covenant and cried bitterly over his sins. So I understand very well the beauty of our feelings as part of our worship, but our relationship with God shouldn’t rest only on feeling.
      On the other hand, although we are so very careful with our own feelings, we sometimes want to shut off someone else’s feelings. Totally disregarding their years of companionship, we attempt to quieten a bereaved spouse who is weeping over the death of his/her partner by saying things like, “It’s ok, he/she is in a better place,” “At least he/she isn’t suffering any longer,” and “You never know what would have happened if he/she had lived longer” etc. Yes, all that might be very true. Spending time in anguish, weeping, crying and mourning is normal, human and natural. In fact, it might even create in us an opportunity for prayers, reciting psalms and spiritual songs. A broken relationship could very well leave a scar in one’s heart, and we need a space to mourn, contemplate and pray. But sometimes we are not given this opportunity, and instead we are bombarded by very loving people who might be giving us the wrong advice and telling us, “Don’t worry; he/she doesn’t deserve you,” as if this should bring calmness and peace to our hearts.  In the midst of his trial, Job recognized that his friends were offering no help at all; it sounds like their presence was even more painful to him than what he was going through. He left his pain and you can almost hear his cry of “Miserable comforters are you all!”[1]
      Brothers and sisters, let’s keep a balance in our relationship with God and with others.  Let’s be guided by the Wisdom of God Himself, and let’s be guided by His Spirit, which works in the church, and let’s be guided by the wisdom of the elders; not ignoring our feelings, but including them as an element of our worship and decision making process.

[1]Job 16:2

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