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Do You Feel What I Feel?

We began the season of Advent on Sunday. As the world around us is filled with jingle bells and warnings about the dwindling number of shopping days before Christmas, the Church enters a season of longing. We rehearse the story of the longing of Israel for the Messiah that preceded the birth of Jesus, and we recognize the longing in ourselves and in all creation for his return. In this longing, we come to see and mourn the hurt and brokenness, the violence and injustice, the fear and hate and evil that remain in the world. We experience the not yet of the Kingdom of God.

This waiting and longing is not easy. We have so many ways to avoid waiting. We have even more ways to distract ourselves from feeling. I worry that we have forgotten how to feel. Several years ago a company received $100,000 in donations to dig a hole with no purpose. Among the many sad and distressing things, I found this comment the most telling, “What if you dig so deep you hit hot magma? At least then we'd feel something.”

More common and only slightly less absurd are the ways that we have developed to numb ourselves from truly experience our feelings. We can anesthetize ourselves with any number of legal or illicit substances. We can eat our feelings instead of experiencing them. We can even find surrogate feelings in fictional characters or “reality TV,” to avoid our own feelings.

We can even lose our feelings in our work. Over a 20 year Army career, an internal medicine residency, and other experiences, I acquired highly developed skills with which to deny, suppress, hide, rationalize, or otherwise avoid actually feeling and experiencing emotions.  I realized that these avoidance skills are not very selective. They avoid the more welcome feelings like joy, wonder, and love as well as the less welcome feelings like sorrow, regret, and fear. It is the Psalms that have given me both permission and a form to experience and express my feelings, both the welcome and unwelcome.

This Advent brings a longing to feel, but how might we accept this invitation?

It is often in creative expression that our feelings, named or unnamed are manifest whether intentionally or not. By opening ourselves and our schedules to creative practices, we begin to learn to feel. Over the next several weeks, we will explore some creative practices that help us to relearn how to feel.

- What do you find difficult about waiting?

- In what ways do you avoid experiencing your feelings and emotions?

- In what ways do you allow yourself to feel?

- What might change if you allowed yourself to feel?

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