Getting in Touch with our Feelings

Last Tuesday evening, like some of you perhaps, I watched the programme about Stephen Fry and his battle with bipolarity, or to use an older way of describing it, manic depression. The programme focused on other celebrity folk, Robbie Williams among them, who very bravely and movingly described how life can switch from one mood to another without any warning sometimes, leaving them feeling completely helpless and powerless over their lives and for most of the time living with a sense that there is something intrinsically wrong with them. Thankfully the insights and information available to us in the 21st century help us to understand many things, not least diseases which are difficult to be aware of perhaps because they are not as obvious to the eye as a broken leg or an arm in a sling.

Some of us here may have first hand experience of what it is like to have bouts of depression, but it is true to say that many human beings enjoy a somewhat healthier life when, as much as is humanly and physically possible, we are in touch with our true inner feelings and are aware of how those feelings shape our lives. Our deep down, sometimes unacknowledged feelings can shape the way we perceive ourselves, and others around us, and can be the cause of great joy or great sadness in relationships. Very often it is only when we have really been in touch with the various pieces of our lives that we can begin to experience the peace which comes from God alone.

You might say that getting in touch with our feelings and all that drives us is the message of today’s readings. In today’s epistle, S James writes Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done.

An obvious statement but a true one. Many of us have perhaps been in the position of hiding or denying ambition but secretly lusting after it. Without really knowing why, we can be jealous of others because they have been asked to read a lesson at a special service, or they have been asked to sing the solo; these are just small examples which can be found in many church communities.

We can be jealous if we think someone else is closer to the priest than we are or they socialize with the Vicar more than we do. Such jealousies do occur, believe you me! We can offer congratulations to someone appointed or elected to a post we wanted for ourselves ourselves. Such congratulations are usually false and because of that our true feelings, our jealously and resentment, are not actually dealt with honestly and so are pushed deep within us to fester.

I had a friend years ago who had got herself into so much debt she had stopped opening letters from the bank and credit agencies. She just pushed them all into a draw. That isn’t uncommon and many people with cravings and addictions are reluctant to admit the truth about them.

But the more we push true feelings away, the more we store up trouble for ourselves emotionally.

Again, S. James says: Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn't it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven't got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force.

We have the tension of cravings and desires and some of them are indeed good and healthy; but they are not always good ones, they are often battling against the way of life which we know is ultimately of God. And of course they clash. Very often we have to live with tensions of many kinds; sometimes we deal with them better than others. Sometimes external help is needed and some find psychotherapy can provide that need.

But today’s Gospel speaks of us having the openness of a child. And what we mustn’t confuse here is being child-ish with child-like. One is very much more mature than the other. It was indeed a battle over power amongst the disciples which led Jesus to talk about having the openness of a child.

St Paul writes “if any one should boast, let them boast of the Lord”. Perhaps that phrase might be slightly altered to say “if anyone has ambition, let it be for the good of the church, and not for the glorification of the individual”.

The scene in the today’s Gospel would be a wonderful one to act out. Adults at their very childish best. They were arguing “what are you arguing about? “ says Jesus. Then the reply came as if from a naughty child. “Nothing… we weren’t saying anything!” Of course they were – they were arguing about who is the greatest but knowing that to be childish they denied it. In a similar gospel passage where the pushy mother of one of the disciples intervenes and tries to secure the best place for her son, Jesus makes it clear that it isn’t about ‘who sits where’ but about who takes discipleship seriously. That’s the real question.

In the church today we have battles – forms of service, low or high, male or female priests and so on….. we might well hear Jesus say, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, it is the living out of our faith that is the serious issue. Charity, compassion, sacrificial giving for the work of the church at home and overseas, these are things that really matter. And I wonder if the debates in the church would lead to different outcomes if people were truly honest about what their fears were concerning various issues rather than simply peddling arguments of scripture, tradition and reason – on either side of any debate.

Some years ago when Aids was becoming a common illness, many of us learned to live with a new language, for example we talked of people living with Aids, rather than people dying from Aids.

People who live with depression, people who live with jealousy, and make no mistake, some people get emotionally crippled with jealousy, people struggling to cope with all kinds of conflicting emotions and negative feelings won’t necessarily find a magic cure, but we can begin to deal with such emotions when we first acknowledge that these feelings really do exist and secondly, as today’s epistle suggests, we deal with these things in the context of prayer. As Christians, we are fortunate to have that added dimension to our lives. It’s what gives us our identity, a relationship with God made real through prayer and worship. With God we can learn to live with rather than die from.

Proper rest and relaxation, carefully planned timetables and work-schedules, medication, – all these can play their part in trying to make us, as far as we can be, balanced and healthy people.

As Christians we believe that Jesus entered the world as it really was; not some fantasy world but a real world with the mess, the sin, the squalor, the pain and frustration. That is the world he hung and died on the cross for.

In the depths of despair we so often ask: “Where is God?” And when we turn to the Cross we find the answer. There is God. Right in the middle of it all.  In the mess. In the mystery.

And it is when, with the open simplicity found in children, we truly open ourselves to God in prayer, bringing to that prayer the reality of the pain we live with, then we begin to see pain transformed and life renewed. That is the message and the lesson of the Cross. Jesus couldn’t dodge the issue of pain and suffering, he first had to go through the darkness of Good Friday before the Resurrection on Easter Day. And if we are serious about being Christians, we must be serious about the cost and sacrifice involved.

The word psycho-therapy in fact comes from two words, one meaning cure and one meaning soul. When any priest is licensed to a parish he is given the cure of souls which he shares with the Bishop. That doesn’t mean he is an expert in understanding the human psyche, but he is the dispenser of the church’s sacraments; not because he is worthy or better than others, many of us priests are only too aware of our unworthiness to perform the task, but because God only has broken human beings to choose his priests from. And as the BCP reminds us, the sacraments of the Church do not depend upon the worthiness of the minister, but on the abundance of God’s grace.

The sacraments of the church are not there as some sort of panacea, a quick fix solution, but whether it be the sacrament of reconciliation, the sacrament of healing, or the sacrament we will shortly receive at this altar, we receive the very life-force of God himself. The Sacraments of the Church are God’s way of breaking into our lives and flooding them with his love and healing.

We can easily sit at a PCC meeting or an AGM and talk about how we should order our buildings and spend money on them. Generally there is no shortage of things to say on such matters. But try and talk about the things of God, of the spirit, of eternity, and it isn’t always easy to find words. We often say that actions speak louder than words. So also Sacraments speak louder than words.

Getting in touch with our real feelings may be painful, doing something about those feelings may be more painful.

Our hopes, our fears, our aspirations and our dreams, our frustrations – all of that needs to be placed into God’s hands in prayer so that as we approach the altar this morning we are prepared for God to place into our hands the very means of his grace. For in Christ we find the healing and strength which alone can bring peace to our fractured and sometimes vulnerable lives, and ultimately to our fractured and vulnerable world.

These words from today’s offertory hymn perhaps sum it all up:

Lord, we come to ask your healing, teach us of love;
all unspoken shame revealing, teach us of love.
Take our selfish thoughts and actions,
petty feuds, divisive factions,
hear us now to you appealing, teach us of love.

Soothe away our pain and sorrow, hold us in love;
grace we cannot buy or borrow,
hold us in love.
Though we see but dark and danger,
though we spurn both friend and stranger,
though we often dread tomorrow, hold us in love.

Fr Neil Kelley
September 2006

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