From Season of Promises
Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, in spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this. Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days – until you fold up and collapse into despair. (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)
Feelings, feely-feely feelings. We hear so much about feelings. It’s the triumph of the therapeutic. The self-help gurus proclaim the gospel of getting in touch with your feelings. Thus do they rake in the dough, the bucks, the greenbacks, the moolah. Thus do they rake it in. But genuine spiritual guides, to a one, over the centuries, caution us to take our feelings with a grain of salt. Feelings can be misleading.
Take an Advent memo. Love is not a feeling, not the kind of love that stands the test of time. Love, the spiritually wise tell us, is at rock bottom an act of the will. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught in the 13th century that love is an act of the will. Plain as the nose on your face. An act of the will. Not a feeling. This does not mean we should scorn loosey-goosey feelings of romantic love. Enjoy them, but don’t expect loosey-goosey to carry you over the long haul. Hardly.
Take an Advent memo. Joy also is deeper than feelings. You can find joy in the Nazi death camps of World War II, and today you can find joy in people who take care of people who have the most terrible diseases. Joy, true joy, is not superficial. Give slick preachers of sunshine a wide berth, Merton advised. For their message has no depth.
When prayer brings loosey-goosey feelings of comfort and joy, enjoy the fizz while it lasts but don’t expect it to last. Live on a deeper level than that. That’s the ticket.
God of quiet Advent joy, help me to welcome emotional and spiritual comfort when it comes, but help me to cultivate love and joy regardless of how I feel. Amen.