(Picture: visiting the Rodin museum in Paris last year)
Feelings are a gift. To feel reminds you that you’re human, or at least, a living being. Feelings, along with faith, are our equipment for the unexpected.
And we can expect more of that.
Even some of the more questionable feelings, like anger and outrage. It was one of the most smugly quoted verses I encountered early in my faith journey: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26).
If I can stomach the smugness, it’s good advice.
I remember Fr Gerard Hughes, author of ‘God of Surprises’ talking about the uses of pain. I was sceptical. Though that was a long time ago. He also spoke inspiringly to that group of Iona Volunteers (that included myself) in 1990 about the crucial value of spirituality in sustaining a life of activism without burning out.
Over the last year, I have opened myself as never before to bad news. It drip-feeds into my consciousness every time I open my computer to check my emails. Perhaps I’m grateful it still seems strange to someone who did their growing up in the sixties and seventies. When crassness and (nuclear) despair about ‘no future’ seemed to be something one could dismiss or rise above.
Those were the circles I moved in, then.
I even, reluctantly accepted the manifest lies about the ‘need’ for nuclear weapons.
I had quite a few ‘conversion’ experiences ahead of me. And by the grace of God, I also found friends to help me through them. Companions. Angels in disguise? Thank God, anyway.
And I became angry, and afraid, I experienced injustice, and sadness. A year of inescapable bitterness, being held up for ministry training. And these things all passed. I married, we had children, my wife became terminally ill, I became exhausted, then a widower. Feelings were big, crushing at times, but not inappropriate. I didn’t wish them away. They had a logic.
But the question of what to do with the feelings about the climate crisis is still a new one. Nothing has (adequately) prepared me. I need a bit more ‘conversion’. I’m still learning.
The Amazon is burning, the Arctic is burning. And yet we’re still here, for now.
Why? what have we still to do. ?
Seriously – and maybe surprising, even if it ought not to be surprising – scripture is significantly sustaining. Matthew chapter 6 helps me each and every day. Worrying less about tomorrow than I might, even though there is plenty to worry about. And it’s likely that will be the case for the rest of my life and those of my children. And accepting that to be the case, we need a sustainable approach to the gift of emotions.
A taller order. ‘Hope beyond hope’, I think someone called it. Retelling a story ancient even in his own time.
For now, I’m comfortable, not in immediate danger. Some of my property was stolen, but I was in a position to replace it. A bit of stress, but Life carried on.
The most irritated I got recently, was when a train which was running in the middle of the night claimed to have no room ,and I knew this was not the case, but an operational fiction. Maybe that’s out of proportion. But emotional proportionality often eludes me.
(I was going to say “ eludes us”, but I can’t presume to speak for you.
The political developments of the last few weeks, involving reprehensibly total indifference to the environmental situation, have been much more problematic.
The crimes of pig-ignorance…..
The stability I knew growing up, including my delight to be part of a European Community, has made almost every development seem outrageous. It’s been suggested that this is calculated: ‘outrage fatigue’ enables unacceptable things to be slipped in or hidden behind other news, or strategically numbs us. Better than crushing us?
To sleep, perchance to dream. Or not.
Somehow I need to preserve and give thanks for the feelings which are there for short-term action, without experiencing them all day every day.
The fight and flight stuff, in reserve, and the keeping going stuff, in balance, denying neither.
Well, maybe that’s what prayer is for. And the idea of “sustain” rather than “save” is creeping more into my own. As well as the acknowledgement of limits. Transformation, rather than resolution of conflict. And the companionship of God, come what may.
This ‘conversion’ malarkey is a lifelong ….thing!
Again and again and again.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26).
If I can stomach the smugness, it’s good advice, as the sun goes down, and there’s still tomorrow.
And joy, and laughter as well.