Welcome Heartache, My Old Friend - Seeing Our Emotions as Honored Guests
It’s sometimes funny how things happen together. I might call them coincidences, but I like the terminology of a friend who calls them God-incidences. As we were writing about hospitality over the past several weeks, I was also reading Albert Haase’s excellent book, Becoming an Ordinary Mystic. One of the insights of this book was the invitation to extend hospitality to our emotions as honored guests in our prayers.
I often fall into the trap of considering some emotions “good” and others “bad,” or at least some better and some worse. The “good” emotions like happiness, contentment, and excitement, are easy to welcome. In fact, I would prefer them to be permanent residents rather than temporary guests. On the other hand, I would rather ignore, deny, or banish the “bad” emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, lust, and anxiety. What if instead of judging between “good” and “bad” emotions, I welcomed them into my prayer simply as guests by extending a warm welcome, nurturing their needs, breaking bread, and bidding them a fond farewell?
Fr Haase offers a simple way to welcome our emotions in what he calls the Welcoming Prayer. This prayerful recognition and hospitality for our feelings by saying, “Welcome, fear,” or “Welcome, joy,” is beautifully simple but far from easy. It first requires us to actually name the emotion we are feeling. If I am truly honest, I would rather not name what I am feeling. That would require me to acknowledge and come close to that emotion. Much like with people, it seems safer to deal with “emotions” and “reason” as abstract labels like “the poor” or “the criminal” instead of an individual with a name. By discovering and using the name of the emotion, I am able to say “Welcome.”
Once I welcomed the emotion by name, I am able to be present to my guest and nurture its needs. Both happiness and sadness may need to share a story. Anger may need justice. Loneliness, lust, and isolation may need healthy relationships. Anxiety may need protection and security. Joy may need to celebrate. As I sit with these emotions and hear their needs, I begin to recognize that these are my needs. In truly experiencing and knowing what I am feeling, I can then more honestly bring my own needs to God in prayer.
This honesty allows me to break bread with my emotions. I can recognize my emotions as no longer “good” or “bad.” Instead, they are my response to being chosen, blessed, broken, and given. I also come to realize that I am as much a guest as my emotions. It is the Holy Spirit who bids me, together with all my mixed up, crazy emotions, welcome and invites me to “take and eat.”
Just as I can welcome instead of trying to avoid, control, or contain my emotions, I am also able to bid them a fond farewell, no longer desperately clinging to “good” or paralyzed and controlled by “bad.” As I conclude my time of prayer, I can take a moment to savor the story and lessons of the visiting emotion, and I can look forward with hope toward the next visit