by Father Robert Lauder
Fourth in a Series
I am wondering about how emotional of a person I am. That I don’t know seems strange, even to me. Though I may be wrong, I have an image of myself as a very controlled person, completely in charge of my emotions and feelings. At least that is how I think of myself most of the time. But I wonder.
Looking back over my life, I think that somewhere along the way I became suspicious of emotions and maybe a little frightened of them. This may have been due to noticing some mistakes that exceptionally emotional friends made. It may have been due to my education and my love for philosophy, theology and what we might call the “intellectual life.”
Certainly I thought that emotions could hinder clear and profound thinking. I don’t think I ever expected emotions to aid thinking or to move me toward deeper truths. However while I may have come to suspect emotions intellectually, it’s possible that I may have become or perhaps always was a very emotional person. Certainly I have become aware that I have strong feelings.
What has set me thinking about emotions is reading Father James Martin’s “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” (HarperOne). Having mentioned some heartfelt experiences that probably all of us have had, Father Martin writes the following:
“Gratitude, peace, and joy are ways that God communicates with us. During these times, we are feeling a real connection with God, though we might not initially identify it as such. The key insight is accepting that these are ways that God is communicating with us. The first step involves trust.
“Conversely, during times of stress and doubt and sorrow and danger, we can also experience God’s communication.”
This section of Father Martin’s book has set me thinking. I don’t “initially identify” these experiences as God communicating with me but the more I think about Father Martin’s ideas the more sense they make.
In trying to grasp what he is saying, I start with one of the most profound truths about us: we are made for God and nothing less than God is ever going to fulfill us. All experiences that we have of beauty, truth and goodness are ultimately experiences of realities that in some ways resemble God. Everything that is good or true or beautiful owes its goodness, truth and beauty to the loving creative act of God, Who is Unlimited Good, Unlimited Truth and Unlimited Beauty.
We are oriented toward God and therefore we are orientated toward goodness, truth and beauty. When we experience goodness, truth and beauty, we are not experiencing what is completely foreign to us. God, so to speak, has “outfitted” us to choose the good, to grasp truth and to enjoy beauty in a way that He has not “outfitted” animals.
It is natural that when we chose the good, we are pleased; when we grasp truth, we are enlightened; when we experience beauty, we are delighted. Though I don’t usually think of these experiences as experiences sent by God to communicate with us, in the future I will think of them as coming from God.
But what about experiences of stress, doubt, sorrow and danger? Are these possibly ways that God communicates with us? Why not? Until I read this book, I never thought of them as experiences through which God communicates with us but I plan to see the hand of God in all these experiences. These are ways that we can learn from the loving presence of God within us.
God is constantly trying to communicate with us and now, through Father Martin’s insights, I see some of the key ways that God communicates with us. What surprises me is that though I have long believed that God wants to communicate with us, I never stopped to think seriously about how God might do this in our daily lives. Though now this seems strange to me, I never thought that our emotional experiences might be one way that God speaks to us.
If we remind ourselves that we are never alone, that God is always with us and that God is actively with us, then I think that to view God as trying to communicate with us through our emotional experiences, makes a great deal of sense. I think that through experiences that are sad as well as through experiences that are joyful, we can hear the voice of God.