Being Fully Present... Amidst the Presents
In 1799 a German theologian named Friedrich Schleiermacher published a book called On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. He argued that we had defined religion incorrectly and that to truly understand faith and religion, we had to stop viewing religion as practices and doctrines and instead view it more as personal feelings based experience with the divine.
So for Schleiermacher, being religious was more about experiencing God in one's life and viewing the self in relation to the divine.
There were a lot of issues with Schleiermacher's theology and German theologians argued about it for years. As Presbyterians we affirm that there's more to religion than just a "transcendent feeling" and that there are external influences (such as historical knowledge, traditions, our ties to community, etc.) that play a part in our faith.
But during the month of December, as we explore becoming fully human in the context of Advent, I do want to give old Schleiermacher a shout-out, because participating fully in this preparation season involves a lot of "God feelings," and not all of them are positive.
Advent is a time for joy, for time with loved ones, for celebration and hope. It's a time when our cultural art, music, and stories tell us that love is the most important thing in life, and we should seek it out. (On the surface at least it appears that way; I acknowledge that sometimes those messages are meant to entice us to buy loved ones expensive gifts.)
But for a lot of folks Advent is a time of sadness.
We grieve for lost loved ones, for broken relationships, for missed opportunities. It's especially troublesome when the weather and the early sunset drive everyone indoors and make your loneliness that much more intense.
It's also a time for anger and frustration! It's hard to be joyful when you feel pressured to keep up appearances, when money is tight, when you feel like you're letting people down, or when you're just too tired emotionally to deal.
The societal expectation to participate in the most "wonderful time of the year" can turn anyone into a scrooge, pushing past loud carolers to get into a grocery store or forsaking television because you can't stand schmaltzy Christmas specials.
All these situations and feelings (good and bad) lead most of us to adopt some numbness during December. The emotional drain is too challenging.
But this year I invite you to be fully present during advent as a religious experience.
Spend the month doing your best Schleiermacher impression and view yourself and your feelings during Advent in relation to God and see how it affects your relationship. Feel what you need to feel: joy, love, admiration, sadness, loss, loneliness, anger, jealousy, frustration.
Don't limit yourself to a particular feeling and don't feel pressured by outside influences to change or hide the way you feel. Share that emotion with others in honesty, instead of being embarrassed and hiding it deep within. Know that your God understands, emphasizes, and loves you, and you can always lift your feelings up to your Creator.
Advent was about God coming to Earth in human form, experiencing our being in unprecedented intimacy, God in flesh. This includes things like joy, anger, and sadness. What makes humanity such a special creation is our diverse rainbow of human emotion.
Explore how your heart ties you to the divine. Dive into your feelings, let the faucet run. Being fully human is fully feeling.
As we prepare to greet the Christ child, let your heart go where it will. For the one we were promised is on his way.
He is coming soon.