What happens between sensation and response?
You know how you can feel “butterflies” in your stomach before identifying the reason why? It creeps up on you until your hand moves to your belly and you offer a soft, “”Hmmm…” It could be that you are nervous about what’s to happen next, excited about someone about to appear, or even hungry for having worked through lunch. Once you realize the need and can put a meaningful label on the experience, you are off to the races to satisfy the urge.
Cleopas and the other downcast disciple in the Luke 24 Easter story had been walking and talking with a “stranger” along the road to Emmaus when they felt their hearts “burning within” them. But they did not put two and two together until that evening at the dinner table when their guest was given the honor of blessing the bread. Only then did it “click in” – Aha!! – causing the disciples to jump up to go and tell others about their experience “on the way”. The Risen Lord Jesus was in their midst engaging their faith over a discussion of the scriptures. But it wasn’t until their eyes were opened and they recognized Him in the breaking of bread that the “heartburn” suddenly made sense, and they responded with action.
With my doctoral coursework complete, I am now working on my final DMin project exploring the phenomenon of “spiritual recognition” in a passionate spirituality. [A much more grandiose proposal was rejected for something more manageable in the time left before my scheduled graduation in May 2013.] At the end of my project I hope to have contributed to the new field of Affect Theology, a view of faith development that begins not with highly scholastic theological statements or age-old creeds, but deep down pre-cognitive, pre-conscious shifts in the soul (“something happened”) that come to mean something transformative (“now I know He touched me…and made me whole.”) Going one step farther, I want to explore the mechanism of spiritual recognition that stimulates action beyond reflection, and to perhaps identify those inhibiting factors that stifle response.
To be sure, if we only had minutes left in this life I would preach a very short sermon on the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, and the “blue” in us would be quite satisfied. But the “red” in us would demand a clearer articulation of how this fits into God’s plan of salvation and the “green” would want to find a creative expression of it or engage in some activism to sustain it. And while spiritual awakening itself does not require higher education, the Doctor of Ministry program does require evidence of rigorous scholarship in two, bound copies for the seminary library!
The Wayside connection? We feel the “burn”, but apparently struggle to recognize the Lord right here in our midst. Because if we did we’d be up and out telling anyone and everyone to “come and see” for themselves. (John 1:45-46)
Now, I know we love the Lord at Wayside, and that God is at work among us. But we need to develop our spiritual sensitivity and responsiveness. To this end we have planned a series of Advent & Christmas worship services to facilitate the connection between head and heart. Each Lord’s Day we will be exploring the depths of the Christian religion, and offering language to articulate our personal and collective experiences and the Church’s faith claims. This is what is meant by affective theology. Our hope is that we will begin to see Jesus in our midst more clearly, name that inner spiritual urge more readily, and then “get up, go and tell” others more faithfully.
May this sacred season bring each of us into such a transformative experience of God’s holiness that we cannot help but invite others to celebrate with us.