Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ok, next question: is there a difference between the Spirit and emotions?

I think that discussion under the last post is a good one that I would like to keep going, but I think that this question is a separate and more foundational one. Can I have an emotional reaction that has nothing to do with the Spirit. I think it's obviously 'yes,' but I don't think everyone agrees with me here.

My gut is that music in film opens up a channel to our emotions and that what we feel there is not God. (Now these are all very vague issues, and describing them in words will always fall short. Nevertheless, I consider it a worth while effort.) If what I wrote above is true, that sweeping music elicits an emotional, not spiritual response, then does that mean that music alone never
elicits a spiritual response? Is it always emotional?

I think that some of our responses to the questions asked about the Spirit and art are responses about emotions, not about the Spirit. But why would I think that my experiences with the Spirit would qualify me to dictate what yours could be? I know a few things that are on my mind about this distinction, and I know my experiences. I'll share those and I'd really appreciate if you would share yours.

1. That Romans 8:16 says: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God"
In this verse, there are two spirits being talked about: The Spirit of God, and the spirit of us. Big 'S', little 's'. And both of them are 'bearing witness.' That is something amazing in my mind. Did YOU know that YOUR spirit could testify? I don't know the terms, procedures, or requirements for this, but it is worth noting.
I don't believe that I even know what it would be to elicit a spiritual response, but the doctrine in this verse is key to understanding it, I am convinced. I don't believe that it is the same thing as our emotions bearing witness.

2. I know that our emotions and our spirits are very closely linked. Nephi wrote that he began to cry more as he became more 'spiritually in-tune' with the Lord (how's that for a phrase with a LOT of topical baggage.

3. I believe that the distinction might best be described by looking at the order of our meetings. The hymn always comes before the prayer/ordinance. The spiritual experience (the connection with God) comes after not during the hymn. The hymn's purpose is to prepare for, not replace, the Spirit.

The idea is that after we have alerted our senses, we will be more receptive to God's presence and His counsel.

That way, our reaction to the preparation (intellectual as well as emotional) is based on taste, culture, training... and I don't know that our receptiveness to the Spirit is influenced by those factors.

4. I know that sometimes I have been given direction as a result of a piece of art. I felt things as I pondered the work (could I have said experienced? I'm really not sure. But it would have to be an active verb). My interaction with a piece of art was always active rather than passive if I was received any divine direction. I know that that is not emotion. It is from outside of both me and my biology.

However, I know that the Spirit does not only speak this way to us. It sometimes primarily a Comforter. That does not require direction.

These are the biggest conclusions I've come to on my own, and I would greatly appreciate you to share yours.


Kayela said...

I don't know if I'm allowed to comment on this thread but I've been reading this thing and I wanted to share.

I decided, now that I have more time, to read Charles Taylor's book, A Secular Age. The point of the book is to explore how we got from the Middle Ages, when not believing in God was unthinkable, to now when it is often the more acceptable of the many options of belief. Following Weber's idea that our current world is disenchanted, Taylor describes the original world as enchanted. He describes one of the major differences between these two worlds as a change in the way the self is constructed. He creates a dichotomy between a porous self or a bounded self, a dichotomy I hope will be explained in the following quote.
"For us, things in the world, those which are neither human beings, nor expressions of human beings, are "outside" of the mind. ... But in all these cases, that these responses arise in us, that things take on these meanings, is a function of how we as minds, or organisms secreting minds, operate. ... But in the enchanted world, the meaning exists already outside of us, prior to contact; it can take us over, we can fall into its field of force. It comes on us from the outside" (Taylor, 33-36)
While Taylor is contrasting the spiritual underpinnings of life in the Middle Ages with the lack of that spirituality in Modern times, I think the comparison can also be applied to the way we encounter the Spirit. Perhaps the way we encounter the Sprit is dependent on what kind of self we have constructed (an idea that I realize depends on the idea that the self is constructed). I know that today the bounded self is the healthy one. Porous selves are often seen as a result of trauma or mental defect.
We could, however, think of these two conceptions as possibilities rather than binary opposites. Maybe sometimes we experience the spirituality of art the way Taylor says a modern person would- as something outside of us but basically a function of ourselves, our emotions, our relationship to the spirit, our intellectual connection, whatever. And sometimes we experience art in the Medieval sense- as something that always already has a spiritual meaning in which we partake for a moment. Maybe some of us generally aim toward one conception or another.
I do wonder where this idea puts the artist. Either way, the experience of spirituality in art I have semi-proposed has more to do with your own outlook on the world than it does with the work, which I suppose is the point of everything Derrida wrote about the death of the author. Just a thought.

Kayela said...

PS. Sorry that was so long.

Schmetterling said...

This is a topic of great interest to me, which makes me all the more apologetic that I am unable to give you solid answers, but I will ramble a bit (as is my custom) and hope that I can manage to say something insightful.

In regards to film, I think your comment on music is very important. Hollywood has gone totally overboard with movie scores lately. Don't get me wrong; I love a lot of movie themes, but I think that they often distract from the overall impact of the film (not that Hollywood gives us much of meaning anyway).

We as a people (um--meaning Americans, I suppose; my impression is that other societies are not so guilty of this, though the truth may be that only their finest art [including films] manage to cross oceans)--we are infatuated (and, indeed, surfeited) with sensationalism. And I really don't think that Latter-day Saints are free from that infatuation--in fact, we may be more than normally guilty. As members of the Church, we have had honest-to-goodness spiritual experiences, and they are sometimes very emotional. But simple emotion is a lot easier to convey than the "pure intelligence" that comes from the Spirit (there's a Joseph Smith quote there somewhere that I'm too lazy to dig up). I've heard a lot of talks where people were emotional and therefore tried to share their emotions with the congregation. Truth is, sometimes emotional experiences are pretty cheap. But spiritual communication is some of the most precious stuff available to us; the fact that the two get confused so often saddens me.

I don't have a good solution to this, I'm afraid, but I can identify some--uh--aesthetically DISpleasing rules of thumb--and maybe these are too brutal to be helpful. The problem is that sacred experiences are so fragile that they're hard to share. But I think that, if LDS cinema is to be a purveyor of great Truths, the LDS screenwriters and directors have got to separate the emotion from the truth. If you can convey truth and demonstrate characters interacting appropriately with truth (which may or may not mean interacting emotionally with it), then the audience will be impacted emotionally anyway (providing they are open to truth). The moment you try to convey emotion instead of truth, you begin to slip toward depravity.

But perhaps that's unfair; I know I have trouble separating revelation from the emotions surrounding it, but I think that that's necessary if we are to avoid becoming no more than a blubbering woman in testimony meeting (not that I have anything against public displays of emotion in spiritual settings; I just think that a lot of times we miss the mark because we've decided that tears=testimony, which simply isn't true).

But, to get to your titular question, I think that there is not only a difference between the Spirit and emotions, but I think that it is both an extremely significant and extremely elusive distinction (which poses an interesting challenge for you and for all of us).

Schmetterling said...

PS If kayela was justified in apologizing for imprudence in length, my debt is so much the greater: my apologies.

Adam said...

I wonder if I can't add some worthwile insight to this valuable dialectic by suggesting some scriptures that come to mind while leaving their application to the current topic as a question for discussion.

First, when kayela said, "We could, however, think of these two conceptions as possibilities rather than binary opposites" I thought of this:

"Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other" (2 Nephi 2:16).

Kayela's whole excellent comment reminded me of this:

"there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon" (2 Nephi 2:14). I would also suggest verses 13 and 26 of this chapter here.

Finally, on the constructed self mentioned in the same comment, I am reminded of the Proclamation on the family, which states, "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

I obviously don't wish to raise the issue of gender by quoting this. What I'm getting at is the idea of "identity and purpose." If the self is constructed, I tend to think it should be constructed by God, who knows all its aspects. Whether we are in a premortal, mortal, or eternal context, we have divine identity and purpose. For me, that would imply that the self is learned. But I think that learning can be blocked by too much construction.

I think which of kayela's alternatives for encountering the Spirit we use may also depend on which we use to encounter our own spirits, or the self.

Do we perceive ourselves as having identity and purpose extrinsic to the role we play in a film/work of art? If so, and we feel the Spirit when watching a film, we may be more inclined to merely watch it, rather than participate in it. If not, we probably lose ourselves in the art in order to take its intrinsic meaning upon us, thereby adopting temporarily a new identity and purpose.

I know there are several points embedded here that need further development, but I'll stop now to avoid digging myself a deeper hole. I'd rather put this up and collect other thoughts first, including my own.