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Faith and Feeling.

By David Kitchingman in All Sorts

thinking about how to express and experience transformative emotional impact of Jesus in our age

There’s almost too much thinking about faith, from ‘Faith Thinking’ workshops at the University to ‘Faith and Reason’ columns in the ODT. If loving God is about the heart, soul, mind and strength, willpower should occupy about 25% of it and brainpower another 25%, whereas the combined emotions of heart and soul should take up 50%.
Notice that I equated the mind and the brain, but that also underrates the place of emotion. As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has pointed out, we have two systems in our brains, one more informed by emotion and the other by reason. Yet why is it that the word ‘brainy’ is taken to just mean intelligent, when it should equally mean emotional?
In plumbing for the elevation of feeling over theological reasoning, I am tempted to appeal to one of the most famous quotations from John Wesley: ‘I felt my heart strangely warmed’. I say tempted, because to leave it at that, without any recognition of the broader analytical context of his Journal entry for Wednesday 24 May 1738 would be to misrepresent his full position.
But it so happens that I no longer share his Aldersgate assurance that Christ alone is the ‘Captain of our salvation’ by saving us from the ‘the law of sin and death’. Nevertheless, what I do still deeply appreciate is the instinct that led Wesley to highlight the effect on his heart of his encounter with the Jesus event.
If this may seem a case of splitting hairs, its relevance may become clearer with reference to the protest that took place this last week on the grounds of Parliament during the first sitting day of the New Year. About 400 people gathered to express their opposition as Christians to the action of the Speaker, Trevor Mallard, in deleting from the traditional daily prayer the final phrase ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.
Among Christians there will be two main responses to the Speaker’s rather unilateral break with tradition. Understandably, many will share the views of those who made a stand for sacred continuity, not so much, they said, to protest as to proclaim, ‘to see the name of Jesus exalted, not excluded’.
Others, with varying degrees of regret, will take a similar view to that of Bill English (a practising Catholic) who accepts the need to recognise the extent of contemporary diversity, and therefore to avoid imposing one’s own beliefs on others. Hence the growing acceptance of a multifaith environment.
I have considerable sympathy with both points of view. After all, I’m pushing for greater acceptance of the role of feelings in faith, and here’s an instance in which deeply cherished feelings may be hurt.
While the two responses may be seen as occupying slightly different camps within the Christian community, they have much in common. Neither sees such a situation as posing any particular searching questions of Christian beliefs themselves. It simply calls for adjustments in addressing other faiths and non-faith, not any fundamental revaluation of the ‘Faith of our fathers, holy faith’.

But could it just be possible that society has begun to sense that the phrase ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’ no longer adequately defines his place in world history and individual destiny? Can he not still evoke a transformative emotional impact without being saddled with the supernatural apparatus of a bygone age?
For myself, as I get older, I seem to have come full circle, beginning with a childlike trust ─ trust being one of the primary eight emotions according to Robert Plutchik’s theory, and very much akin to faith itself. Once I got past some initial fear (another of the primary emotions), my Sunday School bequeathed many memorable words (quaint pronouns and all) and indelible music:
Jesus, Friend of little children, Be a Friend to me;
Take my hand and ever keep me Close to Thee.
There followed decades of Christian prayer and philosophising, not to mention wholesale denial thereof. Finally, I seek to come back to a life- affirming trust again, in which Jesus continues to occupy a special place (though not as ‘Lord’, I have to say). Don’t ask me to define it, but maybe as great Lover or Light might be getting strangely warmer.
Never leave me nor forsake me, Ever be my Friend,
For I need Thee from life’s dawning To its end.
As I contemplate the future beyond my end, possibly even a post- church one, I surmise that it will be the affirmative communal feelings in the legacy of faith that will really matter, and not so much the cognitive framework in which it has been passed on so far. Ultimately, it won’t depend on whether grace, love and fellowship are exclusively mediated ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.
David Kitchingman