Sunday, January 13, 2019

Chatting at the Jordan River

Much of what constitutes life is composed of feelings, so there's nothing wrong with that, but they only go so far in painting a useful picture of the world outside one's head, or in providing a text or even dramatic performance that does anything more than to impress oneself onto the world in which one lives.

The phenomenon of living by one's feelings is of recent origin and occurrence, although it does not look like going away anytime soon. It is, to my way of thinking, a kind of modern luxury. I am not speaking of philosophical debates that attempt to describe where thinking stops and feelings begin: that can be a provocative conversation. No, feelings in and of themselves, or feelings about feelings, are the waters in which we travel these days. There is no getting away from the autonomy of a person my, feeling what they feel, stops there. And I don't mean to criticize unduly. It is not clear at all to me where thinking stops and feelings begin or if there is a line between those operative experiential modes at all.

If you are a person who spends a good deal of time thinking or feeling about their feelings, it is easy to lose your bearings and feel a bit lost. This, of course, is a feeling. So if you are relying on your feelings as a guidepost to what constitutes your and the world's truth then your report will be a despairing one. I do try and pull back and look at my feelings as if they were a thing one could do this with, but I don't know if that really adds up to anything. I think we rely on routine to ground us in many occasions. Or the notion that you may think what you think, but you choose to believe in certain set principals, combined with routine procedures, can be pretty effective as moorings go.

But, as I said, living by one's feelings if a kind of modern luxury. Only recently have people had the opportunity to remain alone with their thoughts for long stretches of time, even as they circulate among others, but without being required to participate in what's going on around them more than superficially. Our jobs, while perhaps tedious and tiresome, are undemanding. Sitting at a keyboard and contributing keystrokes of one sort or another however many hours a day can make for a handsome living, but it's hardly the sort of interface with reality that a man with a plow, horse and two acres of stoney field has to deal with simply to raise a crop.

People who identify as religious like to despair at the numbers of those who do not, but we know numbers don't mean anything in particular, and therefore they mean nothing at all. The question has been, is, and always will be what one person does, today, for God and for his or her neighbor. One who functions or makes choices in large part owing to the thoughts or feelings they have about their own feelings may not behave outwardly as a card-carrying Christian, but the interior self is a complete mystery. Perhaps their feelings lead them to doubt, as they did for the Apostle Thomas, or to rock-sure faith, as with Simon Peter. I say that living by one's feelings is of recent origin and occurrence - a modern luxury - but do I know anything more than anyone else on this subject?

Evangelization means that I should do what I can to allow others to see what I have, in Christ, so that they might be drawn to him too. While scripture is clear on the facts and reasoning elements that demonstrate Christ divine perfection, we know that the Apostles and disciples were not following him around with a checklist so that, once all the boxes were marked, they could proceed with full confidence knowing Him to be the Messiah. Still, it is important to acknowledge that Christ acted upon the minds and hearts of his followers as an outside agent: no one dreamt up Jesus. And no one became Christian except by identifying Christ, whether by thought or feeling, or a combination of both - by intuition or by the grace of God - as the Messiah.

"After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
'You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.'" (Luke, 21 -22)

So here we are at the Jordan River, now and forever, as the world is made new again by the eternal Word made flesh. But we can't stop here, we must go on. And we will go one, getting some things right and some things wrong, learning and forgetting what we've learned, tuned to the world and our feelings and our thoughts about our feeling and feelings about our thoughts. But we will always be here, too, at the banks of the River Jordan, and be made new, over and over again.