Sunday, November 8, 2009

Life in the Spirit, Part I: Emotionalism?

The Charismatic Renewal is often accused of emotionalism. This is an interesting claim. It is frequently true in practice, but masks a far more interesting understanding of the human person and of the work of the Holy Spirit found in proper charismatic life. Moreover, in addressing the question of emotionalism, I discovered that a lot of other important issues are addressed as well.

By way of introduction, it is worth pointing out that the Catholic Church has endorsed the Charismatic Renewal, particularly in the form of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships. So if one accepts the Church's authority - and I realize not all do - then the question is not whether charismatic spirituality is legitimate, but how or why.

In the first instance, I think it important to remember the integrity of the human person. Loosely following Plato's tripartite division of the soul, we might describe ourselves as physical, emotional and intellectual. Since God made all three, He has declared them all good. Thus, use of reason is of God, and a good thing. (More on that below.) Only slightly less obviously, the body is a good thing and should be used for good purposes. One can take this in a Theology of the Body direction, but even more prosaically, one can look at something like liturgical gestures. Unlike the Gnostics, who contended that the body was at best irrelevant and at worst evil, we respect the body and the physical things we do with it. Thus, it matters if you stand or sit. Waving our hands about in the sign of the cross is meaningful, even good. Through our physical actions we can glorify God. Thus, it should come as little surprise that people may experience a physical response to the presence of the Holy Spirit: tears, laughter, speaking in strange languages.

And here it is worth a brief digression to clarify a point. C. S. Lewis, hardly a tongues-speaking charismatic - so far as I can tell - wrote an interesting little essay titled "Transposition". In it he makes the argument that there are more interior states or experiences than there are physical sensations for them. Thus, your stomach may leap when you hear bad news or when you hear a brilliant musical crescendo, but even if the two feel the same, they are manifestations of different things. (The same might be said for tears of sorrow and tears of joy.) Following this line, Lewis says that we should not be scandalized if speaking in tongues sounds like the kind of gibberish that results from mass psychology and hysteria. They may in fact sound exactly alike. That need not mean they are the same things (even if some people claiming to exhibit the one are actually suffering from the other). But more on tongues to follow...

Returning to the tripartite division of the soul. If God can work through and be glorified in the intellectual and the physical, so too in the emotional. This is not to say that one should give himself totally over to his emotions. But it should come as little surprise that the Holy Spirit might operate at times through our emotions. On a related note: if we sometimes utilize intellectual arguments to convince people of the truth, and we sometimes create beautiful works of physical art to attract them to it, is it so wrong to utilize the emotions to draw people to the truth? As Plato notes, the emotions should not run rampant on their own but should be harnessed to a higher purpose. But if that higher purpose is rightly understood, is a little mood lighting and music to place worshipers in a proper emotional disposition impermissible?

If, then, we conclude that the inclusion of the emotions in one's spirituality is plausible, even desirable, one might ask more specifically about receiving a "word" of insight from the Holy Spirit. Is this anything more than listening to one's own emotions? Here we can note several things: Prophesy happens in Scripture, both for revelation of doctrine (now closed with the perfect revelation of Christ) and for specific exhortations and admonitions for specific people. In some instances we see the prophet actually hearing a message, but as often as not, "the word of the Lord came unto..." How that word came is left ambiguous. But if one receives a word from the Holy Spirit, how do we know that is what it is?

We shall take up that question tomorrow.
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