Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Battlefield Between The Head and The Heart

When Tim Carson took over at University Christian Church, I have to say I was disappointed – greatly disappointed. Replacing the beloved Scott Colglazier in the pulpit wouldn’t be easy for anyone. Scott’s sermons were lyrical and poetic and his words touched my heart by helping me know the unknowable and embrace the mystery of God. Tim sermons left me cold more often than not.

I really miss Scott on Wednesdays when he used to send his mid-week e-mails. They were concise and poetic. Tim’s are a little more rambling. However, today Tim had some interesting thoughts on Valentine’s Day, beginning with the nutty astronaut Lisa Nowak and segueing into the spiritual journey and where God lives in everyone, somewhere between reason and emotion.

Here’s the money section:

In Carson McCullers's first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940), she took her readers to the depths of where the unbridled heart might lead, a place that’s not all roses. The deep seat of longing includes depravity as well as beauty. The inner places are often just as lonely as comforting. And her characters bear out a difficult truth: people left to emotion alone are capable of the best and the worst at the same time.

In fact, the Christian tradition has said a lot about this through the centuries. But the answers are not framed in the same kinds of ways that are popularized today: “The struggle of life takes place on a battlefield somewhere between head and heart.” No, the wisdom of the tradition goes way past this.

In the same way that the spiritual journey cannot be content with self-knowledge alone, but rather by transcending the self, so the train station of our hearts can never be seen as our final destination. In fact, the Abbas and Ammas of the Christian tradition have insisted that the answer to God lies beneath both rationality and emotion. These are upper layers of consciousness and the ultimate destination is understood to lie beneath or above these.

This is why, for instance, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avilla both insist that emotion is only an ante-chamber through which one passes to a deeper spiritual apprehension. One is not to stay there or trust it too much precisely because it is ephemeral. They also know that thinking something about God is not the same as being in communion with God. The answer is neither head nor heart, but beneath both. This is why our prayer or worship or spiritual lives cannot be limited or directed by the temporary stirrings of the heart. What matters most is that which lies beneath both our thinking and feeling. My decision to pray or worship or go on a spiritual retreat or to act lovingly should never be limited by my temporary inclination to either want to do it or to avoid it.

Finding the place where God lives in my own life is a difficult and painful thing. I’m a very feeling person with the empathy and compassion I feel for people almost a crushing thing. For me the inner places are as much lonely as they are comforting. Some days I can feel that connection to God, but other days, most days, it’s all too much.

The rational part of my mind wonders if God’s even there are all. Look around the world today and it’s easy to feel a little existential. What’s the point of existence except right now, and we’re doing a pretty good job of screwing that one up, too.

Achieving that transcendent state is harder and harder for me. I think about God a lot, but we don’t talk so much anymore. “The answer is neither head nor heart, but beneath both. This is why our prayer or worship or spiritual lives cannot be limited or directed by the temporary stirrings of the heart.”

Let me think on that one.

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