Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey
I sometimes sit by the ocean in the evening light when the air is soft and the clouds are pinky-orange. The youngest children have gone to bed. The sandcastles of this day are giving way to the fresh grainy canvas of tomorrow. Lovers walk holding hands. Vacationing families, freshly showered, gather in their white shirts and khakis for the yearly photo. There are a few gritty shore fishermen, beer in hand, hoping for a gift from the sea.
It occurs to me as I sit there how like the sandy shore our emotional lives can be. Often, seemingly out of nowhere, we are hit with wave after wave of emotion. It may be boredom and listlessness one minute, or longing and passion the next. Anger, sadness, loneliness, joy, love, elation, and disappointment all break upon the shores of our spirit sometimes relentlessly. Our emotions are a great gift, but I imagine there are times when we all wish we didn’t feel the way we do, or when it is simply difficult to balance the energy coursing through us. It is easy to understand wanting relief from painful emotions, but even the more desirable ones can be strong and overwhelming. I sometimes feel relieved on those days when the waves of feeling have been mild and the water warm.
The physicists have taught us that all matter is simply energy condensed into form. A baby is a beautiful example of the energy of desire becoming life and breath. Although we know physiologically how the process works, it all begins with energetic presence. We are learning there is “an energetic continuum running through all creation.” (Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, p. 45) French Jesuit philosopher and biologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that our suffering is actually potential energy that can be consciously offered to God as a gift. The energy of our pain becomes part of the “ascending force of the world,” fuel for the transformation of fear to love. This understanding also keeps us close to our elemental humanity, knowing that even our “failures” and setbacks are the instruments of grace on our behalf, enriching the soil of our lives from which we grow strong and beautiful.
I wonder if this wise Jesuit’s insight might provide a path of peaceful partnership with all our unwieldy emotions. Might we see our emotional waves as energy that once liberated from our fear, grasping, and attempts at control, can be offered for a higher purpose? Life is full of emotional conundrums. A dear friend experiences daily frustration working with a man who expects super-human effort and offers very little grace. A beloved son is drinking himself to death and his father is determined to help, but his love cannot be received. A woman feels great tenderness for a man whose heart is unavailable to her. A son watches his mother suffer with cancer, wanting to be present for her, but knowing there is little he can do about her pain. There are situations that can and should be changed, but when change is not possible or is slow in coming, we are left with our strong feelings and very little idea how to live with them. Sometimes our resulting actions come from a simple desire for relief. In the case of the woman wanting to love–a seemingly “positive” thing–she can attach her desire to the unavailable man, trying to force love and doing violence to both their spirits in the process, or she can choose to release her longing into the universe, asking that it be used for Love’s purposes. Who is to say what shape that energy might come to take? Who is to say what purpose our loving and suffering might serve and accomplish when joined with the great energetic Love that upholds the universe?
Unlike the shoreline, we are not powerless victims to the waves of emotion that crash through us. We can receive what comes, adding the power of our own consciousness, our willing surrender and the beauty of our own spirit, thereby offering our emotions as gifts of energy for Love’s purposes. We might also find, then, in the evening when the air is soft and the clouds are pinky-orange that our emotional shoreline has been renewed like the canvas, washed clean and ready for the work, play, and discovery of a new day.
Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.