Luke 18:18-30 God-Sense is a way of exploring how we use our senses to increase our awareness of God’s presence, to better connect with God using more than our minds, which we Presbyterians are so good at! Part of what I hope you have been sensing during our Lenten focus on God-Sense is that connecting with God is an intentional act. Of course we can be surprised by God’s amazing presence any time—bowled over at an unexpected turn of events, a conquering of cancer cells, a call from a long separated family member. In those kinds of times we connect with God in gratitude, with praise, with overflowing joy. God is reaching out to connect with us through many different avenues on a continual basis. Yet it can be easy to be oblivious to God’s presence: we fill our days with work and worry, texts and trivialities, drama or boredom. Being receptive to God-Sense, being open to connecting with God mostly requires being still for a time. When we stop and make time to listen, to look, to touch, to feel, to taste —we put ourselves in a much better place to be aware of God’s presence. We have been experimenting with different kinds of prayer experiences, including silence, movement, visual images, laying on of hands, a pleasing scent.
Take a slow deep breath.
This morning I invite you to pay attention to the way your feelings can be a connection to God. And I mean feelings of all kinds—sadness, anger, joy, excitement, anxiety, even shame or fear. If you take the session’s challenge to read through the psalms in the month of April, you will discover that the writers of the psalms, David and many unknown writers, express the entire gamut of feelings to God. When the writers of the psalms acknowledge feelings of paranoia, or fear, or euphoria, or grief, we find that we can identify with those feelings at different times in our lives. Following their example, it is very appropriate to share feelings with God. And God’s presence, care, comfort, companionship is felt through our feelings.
Let’s try to pay attention to how our feelings can help us connect to God. Look at the story Walter told this morning, from Luke’s gospel. It is an encounter with yet another person who is looking to justify himself, to make himself look good, and to confirm with Jesus that he’s got it right. He is pretty clear that he is a good keeper of the list of commandments Jesus asks about, and it is almost as if he sees his prosperity, his wealth, as confirmation that he is on the right track. Humans have a tendency to do that—how often have we said, looking at someone’s success in the world’s eyes: “Oh, he must be doing something right!” Some people think that lots of money and resources are signs that God is happy with them. That is not the gospel Jesus preaches. Apparently the rich one seems to have missed the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” He has put his wealth first. He can not envision being without it. He can not see a way to share it. He has a big hole in his way of understanding what it means to live God’s way. He says he wants to inherit eternal life, but is that just because he wants to be sure he doesn’t miss out on anything? He thinks money and talks money. He uses financial terms even in his question to Jesus: What can I do to inherit eternal life? He means, how can I earn it? What check list do I need to follow? He and any of his peers would understand that an inheritance comes from the father to the son. It is a given, not something earned. Remember the prodigal son? He was given his inheritance up front, early. It was assumed that there was an amount of money available to him. He did not earn it. It is based on your family relationship. You don’t earn eternal life either. It is a gift from the Father to the children.
Jesus knew that this child of God, this rich one, had something standing between himself and God. He did not have the relationship upon which inheriting eternal life would be based. The rich one was sad. Jesus was asking him to do something he could not bring himself to do. We don’t know for sure the root of his sadness. Perhaps he realized that his wealth was getting in the way of following Jesus and that made him sad. He was going to miss out. He was not on the right track after all. Or was it the prospect of losing something of great value to him that made him sad? We all are sad when we face the loss of something or someone of great value to us. It can be the death of a loved one. It can be the death of a pet. It can be the end of a friendship. It can be the loss of a familiar place. Have you ever gone by a place that used to be a familiar landmark that has now become a parking lot or a tall building? It can bring a feeling of sadness just remembering what was once there. It happens to me almost every time I go back to the neighborhood where I grew up. I still remember my sadness when I went to say goodbye to my childhood home. My parents were selling the family home in order to move out of state. Now, mind you, I was married and had not lived in the house for more than 7 years, but I wandered through the rooms with tears in my eyes. And I still remember what my dad said, “Oh, Debbie, it is just a house. What are really important are the people.” Definitely true, but for me it was the closing down of a place of comfort, the loss of my home, and it was sad.
When we pay attention to our feelings of sadness, we may learn something about what is important to us. If we reflect on why we are sad, on how we need God’s help through the dark valley, we can find ourselves connecting to God in new ways. We may recognize God at work in a way that we never notice when things are bopping along status quo, no crises, etc. We are often quick to push our feelings aside… “oh, I shouldn’t be so sad”, we tell ourselves again and again. I should be grateful for her life, I should be grateful she is not suffering any longer, I should be grateful for my family who made it a home, I should…… We do the same things with anger—I know I should not get so mad at her, but…. We discount the feelings, hide the feelings, ignore the feelings. There are always other more important matters to pay attention to, right? What would happen if we paid more attention to our feelings in general, including other feelings like anger, annoyed, pain, tense, embarrassed, confused, peaceful, confident, joyful, grateful, engaged, excited, hopeful? Could it be a way to recognize God working through us and in us and around us? Some of us have a harder time than others at even being aware of our feelings, much less connecting with God through our feelings. But even if that is not your comfortable practice, I want to encourage you to try something a little later this morning.
I am going to ask you to pay attention to what you are feeling today—not physically, but emotionally. Reach down inside and pay attention. So maybe you are annoyed at your pastor for asking you to pay attention to your feelings. That is not what you came to church for. Go ahead and be annoyed. But ask yourself, why? Why am I annoyed? What is bothering me about it? And then, ask yourself, where does God fit in my annoyance? Is there something I can gain more understanding about? Myself? My faith journey? My understanding of God? Or maybe today you are feeling excited about something new in your life. Pay attention to that feeling. Where does it come from? Where does God fit in your excitement? Is there something you can gain more understanding about—yourself? Your faith journey? Your concept of God?
Does your feeling connect you with God? Feelings are not always something you can describe with words or even pictures. So this morning we have the opportunity to express our feelings with color. Ask any artist or photographer or interior designer or make-up sales person about the use of color to express feelings. There are the warm colors and the cool colors. Different colors can carry different meanings to different people. Red can mean anger or fear or something else….. Blue can mean sadness or loneliness or peacefulness or something else… Yellow can mean excitement or joyfulness or something else…. You will be able to pick the colors to illustrate the feelings you brought with you to worship today, or the feelings which grow out of reflecting on any one of three short scripture passages which will be on the screen.
Paying attention to our feelings can give us a window on our relationship with God in a way that reading or writing or singing or even praying silently can not do. I know it will be a stretch for some of you to pray like this. You may not make a habit of it, but anything is worth trying once! Or you may just find that you will need to go out and get yourself some colored pencils! Expressing your feelings with color could become a new prayer practice for you. After all, it is God-Sense. Amen.