Once more with feeling

by David Driscoll (reply by Mary Taylor)

from Signs of the Times, No. 31 - Oct 2008

I'm always on the lookout to commend MCU to people who I think would benefit from joining, and was rather disappointed recently to get a straight refusal from a priest I greatly admire. He was however gracious enough to explain his reluctance to join. It turned out that he hadn't any quarrels about our liberalism and openness, and was only too keen to congratulate us in the stands we were prepared to make in the face of injustice. He believed that in such situations MCU came into its own. His criticism was more to do with the things he perceived we lacked and wondering whether upholding rationalism prevented us from appreciating the mystery that lies at the heart of the Christian faith, especially when that mystery is expressed in liturgy.

Shortly afterwards I received a similar criticism from someone who had attended last year's MCU Conference, who questioned whether participants were sufficiently allowed to get in touch with their feelings. Specifically, considering the subject was about violence, had there been a genuine opportunity for us to explore the violence that lay within ourselves and consequently was the conference planned so as to avoid us getting too close to our inner self for fear of what we might find?

I'll happily leave it to readers to decide the fairness of these criticisms, but is it possible that while we in MCU are extremely happy to love God with our minds, we are less certain about loving God with our hearts. After all, our feelings can be so unreliable, and to be described as 'emotional' is hardly a compliment!

But surely, God has made us the way we are, emotions and all. Whether we like it or not we do have feelings, and there has to be a rational explanation for them. Campaigning for justice usually has to be fuelled by passion, even if that passion has to be disciplined and controlled in order for the campaign to be successful. Looking at it another way, we can get excited about a book we've read or a play we've seen. Our emotions can be easily aroused by paintings and certainly by music. Correspondingly, an act of worship that employs all our senses can often provide us with a glimpse of the numinous.

MCU is proud to acknowledge Richard Hooker as one of our heroes in his advocacy of scripture, tradition and reason as the essential pillars of Anglicanism. However, I would like to recommend an additional pillar which allows emotion to play a part too. This is more associated with Methodism because it owes its roots to another Anglican, John Wesley, whose heart on one occasion was 'strangely warmed'. We might even call this a quadrilateral which, as a term, is not so unknown to Anglicanism!

David Driscoll is former Executive Officer for Mission in London's Economy and a Modern Church Council member.