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God, where are you? I don’t feel you! Should I always feel God in prayer? What is emotional spirituality?

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January 16, 2018

God, where are you? I don’t feel you! Should I always feel God in prayer? What is emotional spirituality?

Many of us have been led into despair in our spiritual lives, thinking that God is not present, or doesn’t listen to us. We often ask, “God where are you? Why aren’t you listening to me?” This stems from the fact that frequently we don’t emotionally feel God in prayer. Some feel like God has rejected them. But are we supposed to emotionally feel God in prayer? And when we feel Him, what is that feeling like? Is it an emotional feeling?  

 In John 4, when Christ was speaking to the Samaritan woman, He told her:  

 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”  

 We thus know that we ought to worship in truth, but what is worshipping in the spirit? The misconception today is that we relate the spirit or spiritual life with feelings, or emotions. However, this is not exactly accurate. In the Orthodox understanding, there is a difference between the emotions we feel, like laughing and crying, and the spiritual connection with God, which happens through what the Church Fathers call the NousThe Nous is the eye of the soul that experiences God. It is an experience that combines the person’s mind and heart. But, it is not based on emotions, or feelings… The genuine spiritual life is not about feeling things. The genuine spiritual life is about being transformed back into the true image of God.  

 For example, let us imagine a guy called Joe who has been going to the gym for a couple of weeks now. He is still a beginner, so he lifts only 10 kg with his biceps. Nevertheless, one day, Joe is listening to some lively music that pumped him up on his way to the gym! He decides, “Today, I will lift 30 kg!” So he goes, with complete confidence, until he finds himself utterly incapable of lifting the weight and gets hurt. What happened to Joe is what happens to many of us in our spiritual lives. As we focus on emotions to pump ourselves up spiritually, and believe that we have attained some sort of high spiritual level, we still fall into the same sins again, and realize that there is no real spiritual growth.  

 

Here is another example: if someone listens to a secular song that drives emotional happiness inside of them, does that make them a saint? A spiritual life founded on emotions is like a house built on the sand. It is like a marriage that was joyful in the first few months, in which spouses were ecstatic about each other, but when the rain, the wind and the flood came, it collapsed because it lacked the spiritual strength. It wasn’t built on rock. Spiritual life is about the consistent growth one achieves daily through his spiritual canon. It is about building those spiritual muscles that will get Joe to lift those 30 kg, and then move on to the 40 kg, 50 kg and so on.  

 Therefore, in Orthodox Spirituality, we never base the quality of our prayers on the emotions felt during prayer. Sometimes we feel God within us, sometimes we don’t. But each prayer, if done with seriousness, counts in the eyes of God and transforms us into His image. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says:  

 “Take courage, toil and strive zealously, for nothing will be lost. Every prayer you make, every Psalm you sing, is recorded; every alm, every fast is recorded.”  

 This is what counts! We also need to clarify that once we attain a certain level in our spiritual lives, we should feel God inside of us from time to time. But these feelings are not earthly emotions. They are the fruit of the Spirit: true heavenly Love, Joy, Peace, and sometimes, strength. It is a feeling of His Presence within us. Many are already there. If you haven’t gotten there yet, you will get there one day through your commitment to your spiritual canon. We invite you to watch the video called “How Often Should I pray?” in which we discuss the positive approach to truly reaching a solid relationship with God, to truly build our house on Rock.  

Remember, know your faith, live your faith, and teach your faith.   

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