Emotions, Virtues & Spiritual Practice

This coming Sunday, July 9th, I will preach from a book in the Bible I seldom read or preach from:  The Song of Solomon.  If it were treated like other products we consume—like songs or albums from iTunes or movies—it would have an R rating.  It is a beautiful, sensual work in the bible but I digress. I’m going to preach on “The Habitation of Joy.”

The Christian psychologist and professor, Robert C. Roberts, wrote a wonderful book, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues.  I highly recommend it for any number of reasons, but primarily for his insights as regards our emotional well-being and how we can activate what are virtues in the New Testament and what we regard as emotions in our modern way of looking at things.  Can you teach yourself or be taught to be joyful? Can you counter despair by commanding hope or gratitude? Roberts thinks so.  He writes, “I hope that through reflecting about what emotions are, how they are formed, and the nature of particular spiritual emotions such as joy, contrition, hope, gratitude, compassion, and peace, we can all become more faithful Christians and better nurturers of those whose lives we influence”  (p. 6).

One significant place where such virtues/emotions can be shaped is worship.  Not only is our entrance into worship a passing through one time (regular, mundane time) into another time (sacred time) but we are also permitting ourselves to be instructed and trained in virtues that establish sound and good character.  All of us know how important “continuing education” is for professionals. We want, for example, our doctors and nurses, our dentists, our lawyers and tax advisors etc. to be up to date on the latest information and to be trained in “best practices.”  This is a given.  Worship on any given Sunday exposes us to information, calls us out of our solitude into communion and community; instructs us on ways to navigate a world that is too often filled with cruelty; provides us a gold standard for human behavior (like justice and compassion); and above all, places us before the Holy One who loves us so we can learn to love ourselves and our world.

Pick up Robert’s book.  If you need some therapeutic intervention in your life, be sure to check out the Pastoral Counseling link under the “Ministries” tab at the top of this page.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Again, I say to you, rejoice!”  If he could instruct us to do that then apparently we have the power within ourselves to activate joy.  In this Orwellian time in which we find ourselves, I think you will agree, that such a power and presence in our lives is something each of us could benefit by. ~See you Sunday