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Welcoming Life in the New Year

By December 31, 2015 No Comments

This Christmas break I finally watched the movie Inside Out. I imagine this movie is old news for most readers, but I have a toddler and a busy job and well . . . did I mention a toddler? My husband and I rely on Netflix and Xfinity OnDemand to transform our living room into a theatre.

I had heard much acclaim about this Pixar/Disney flick dealing with feelings and replete with insights into memory, synapses, and neural pathways. As a pastoral care professor who has read some of the latest neuorscientific research on emotion, empathy, and attachment, this movie seemed right up my alley. What pastoral care professor wouldn’t enjoy personified emotions like Joy, Disgust, Anger, Fear, and Sadness?!

Still I was surprised by my resonance with the movie. The main character, Riley, experiences powerful emotions in response to her family’s recent move from Minnesota to San Francisco. That hit home and hooked me right away. We moved away from Minnesota only two years ago and left behind an irreplaceable web of family and friends.

So it’s not surprising that Sadness was my favorite character in the movie. She is a bit melodramatic with all that fainting and floundering. Thankfully her good friend, Joy, is nearby when she seems most likely to relinquish hope and succumb to helplessness. Sadness and Joy spend a good part of the movie at odds with another, with Joy posing as the more evolved. It takes a long time for them to discover their interdependence. Joy tries to control Sadness—along with Fear, Anger, and Disgust—in order to keep Riley happy. This backfires. Sadness can’t be suppressed; attempting to do so creates even more problems.

This is hardly a new insight but one that bears remembering. Sadness and joy mingle together especially at this time of year. See Reverend Annie Reilly’s admonition to have a mournful little Christmas.

Psychologically speaking, healing and mourning are connected. Healing often comes through mourning: honestly acknowledging and naming specific sorrowful events; allowing unexpected feelings to emerge; recognizing unmet needs for love, connection, solidarity, justice, and so forth; greeting those feelings and needs as friends; and, mindfully contemplating the beauty of the very things we long for. In this kind of mourning, joy pierces sadness so that a grounded hopefulness characterizes our living.

There is a theological analogy to this: death and life, cross and resurrection go together. Though distinct, they are not separable in the life of God or in our lives. This is apparent from the start of Jesus’ earthly existence as his parents flee to Egypt in order to save his life from Herod’s brutal massacre. And it is apparent at the end. He is falsely accused, condemned, and tortured to death and yet all this does not annihilate his life.

There is no resurrection without the cross, no life without death in our existence or that of Emmanuel, God-with-us. As Jurgen Moltman puts it so beautifully in his latest book, The Living God and the Fullness of Life:

There is no sombre theology of the cross without the sun of the resurrection, which rises behind the cross on Golgotha. There is no perception of the night of Gethsemane without the daylight colours of Easter day. Without the resurrection, Gethsemane and Golgotha would be only one of the unnumbered tragedies of human life. Without Golgotha, Easter would be no more than a celebration of the spring.

Yet, as Moltmann goes on to say, death and life are not equal. Life prevails.

As I welcome the New Year, I am remembering this reality and intending (more than resolving) to welcome sadness (as well as anger, disgust, and fear) in faith in God’s resurrection power and in the spirit of this poem by Rumi:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

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