Friday, January 3, 2014 – Week of Christmas 2, Year 2
[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 68 (morning) // 72 (evening)
1 Kings 19:9-18
There has been a lot of buzz about a talk given by Brené Brown on “the power of vulnerability.” One point strongly emphasized by Brown is that human beings can’t “selectively numb” their emotions. That is, if we numb unpleasant feelings like anxiety, fear, and shame, we will also diminish our capacity to feel joy, love, and gratitude. Our emotional lives are a complete package.
Today’s second reading identifies this numbness as a trigger for the morally impoverished lives that some Gentiles seem to be living: “They have lost all sensitivity.” Their hardness of heart has made these people “alienated from the life of God.” The root of poor choices, bad habits, and an alienated spirit seems to be a lack of sensitivity.
When we evaluate our moral lives, perhaps we should start with an examination of how much we allow ourselves to feel. To what degree do we let ourselves respond to the world’s flaws that should anger or wound us, or to the world’s charms that should thrill and delight us?
Of course, the emotional teachings of this passage are a bit complicated. In one part of this reading we are asked to “Put away . . . all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander.” For the author of this letter, some forms of bitterness, wrath, and anger are a result of shutting down our emotional lives, leading us to insensitive sins like wrangling and slander.
At another point in the letter, the author encourages us to feel anger: “Be angry but do not sin.” In other words, the challenge of trying to live holy lives is not to repress and deny anger, but to allow ourselves to feel anger without it leading us into sin. Ultimately, the passage calls us to be more “tenderhearted.”
It seems that there is an anger that comes from hard-heartedness and an anger that comes from deep sensitivity and tenderness. Anger can be a sign that we are spiritually alive, neither cutting ourselves off from humanity nor alienating ourselves from the life of God. Instead, we are connected to God and to others when we feel the whole complex range of emotional responses to our world.
So, go ahead: Be angry. Be sad. Be hurt. And also, be overjoyed. Be astonished. Be blessed. If we cultivate our sensitivity, we are very likely to lead lives that delight the Lord.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.