I knew myself in present happening, not as a concept but as a being without localization in time and space. In this non-state there was freedom, full and objectless Joy. There was pure thankfulness, thanking without an object. It was not an affective feeling, but a freedom from all affectivity, a coldness close to warmth.
*Jean Klein. The Ease of Being.
During revival meetings at a Freewill Baptist church in North Carolina, in the mid-1970s, I was startled when a man came running down the aisle. I did not know if he had worshipped like this prior. I had traveled up to serve as one of the revival preachers. Someone informed me of his usual calm demeanor in worship, and his behavior surprised about everyone there, including his pastor.
We heard a litany of shouting. The man ran the aisle between the pews and toward the front, crying, yelling, obviously in ecstasy. He moved into a pew and extended his arms to his pastor. The two embraced, smiling and hugging. Being a Baptist, I had never seen such emoting in a Baptist meeting. My paternal grandmother, Missie, was one of the old-time shouting Baptists; so, she would stand and shout, praising her Lord in worship meeting once in a while. The rest of us would patiently wait, knowing she would calm down soon. Yet, this was beyond anything I had witnessed Missie do.
There was a lot of emotion that week. One would think we had a great revival. I had never seen Baptists so wound up emotionally. When I asked the pastor about this near the end of the meetings, he said, "Oh, it happens every year. It doesn't last."
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The English "emotion" is from the French émouvoir, "to stir up, agitate." The French arose from the Latin emovere, meaning "to move out." Related to this is the religious implication of "enthusiasm," deriving from the Greek "to be in god, God," entheos. Worship can stir us deeply, evoking a wide range of sensible responses and even leading us to reply outside our usual range of feelings and behaviors.
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I served as a United Methodist pastor for over a decade. That church belongs to the Wesleyan tradition, following John and Charles Wesley. That movement has taught a religion of the heart. John Wesley, the 18th Century founder of Methodism, wrote -
How much more sensible must you be of this if you do not rest on the surface, but inquire into the bottom of religion, the religion of the heart?"
*The Works of John Wesley.
Jesus, likewise, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, said in response to being asked what is the greatest commandment in the Jewish Torah -
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment.
*Gospel of Matthew 22.37-38 (NRSV)
Yet, "heart" is not the emotional aspect. The heart is the point of contact between the "upper" and "lower," "spirit" and "matter," or "God" and "human." I do not know what Wesley meant by "heart." But here, religion or spirituality of the heart is not the locus of emotion but of what I have called Feeling.
What is the Feeling? One can refer to it as a sense of presence, the taste of your True Self, or the felt-knowing-awareness of Presence, or God. Now, I am trying to swat flies in the dark. One must know this first-hand to know it.
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Hence, my sense is what was happening year after year in the North Carolina revival meetings was an emotional experience.
This reminds me of a little story about George. Often, after worship, George would go forward and kneel at the altar. He would pray out loud for the filling of the Holy Spirit. Finally, a little boy asked his mom, "Mom, why does that man keep going up there and prayin' for a fillin'? The mother said, "Son, it seems George has a leak."
Emotion is the play of the "i," of body-mind. It is "below" the heart. Emotion is the play of the physical aspect. One can have the same emotions at a football game as at a religious gathering or meditation retreat. Having positive emotions is healthy, yet we best not mistake it for the grace that arises through the heart.
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This transition from identifying spiritual grace with emotional highs or positive sentiments gives way to an underlying sense-of-Presence. The body-mind moves aside, being swallowed up by the power enveloping it through the heart. The Fire of Love burns up the attachment to egoic sentiments and demanding our spiritual path give us repeated feeling fixes.
This transition can be difficult. The small self, or ego, relishes positive emotion; it prefers spiritual fireworks to Grace's subtle touch. The heart provides us with a lesson in presence that neither seeks to feel good nor bad. Presence is not a feeling, not an emotion, and rests contentedly within Itself.
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The heart does not have to reach down into the body-mind to fulfill itself; instead, it is the conduit for Spirit to clothe the "lower" aspects with Its qualities. These qualities wean us off the roller-coaster ride of emotion to validate our relationship with the Divine and Its blessing of us.
Time in silence is a means to invite this weaning through returning to the heart. We learn to relax with nothing happening, not needing a spiritual fix. Through this, we are taught a depth of experience impossible in the domains of emotion or thought. Likewise, we contact an aspect of Love much unlike the limited understandings - for based on the perspective of the ego, or person - of love our society has provided us.
We might resist this lesson; we might keep turning back for the emotional validation. Yet, in time, we enjoy the quietness of resting with the heart in a most delectable delight. We allow the heart to draw all our self, with its energies, into itself, so into the Heart-of-hearts. And the delight is more delightful for not being a feeling among feelings but a presence before all we have ever felt with the body alone. Yet, this must be given to us - there is no other way; hence, we will have to grow to the point of allowing it to be given to us. The Giver is already present, the heart waits for the "Yes" of self to Life.
Peace to All!
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.