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Saturday, June 10, 2017

My Body, My Spectacles

The question has been asked - are feelings or emotions sinful?

Feelings are generally either factually correct or incorrect. Feelings summarize a whole situation into a single, compact experience. That summary is either essentially correct, or essentially incorrect. But "factually correct" is different from "morally correct."

I am not morally responsible for misapprehending the facts.

The reaction of the intellect to the fact of the emotion is what determines right or wrong, just as the reaction of the intellect to anything the world sets before us determines right or wrong. Feelings are the result of a hormone surge within the body, emotions are a chemical reaction in the brain.

But so is sight, touch, hearing, etc.

We are not responsible for what the world puts before our eyes. We are responsible for what we seek out in the world in order to see. The same goes for emotions - I am responsible for what I seek out, knowing what emotion will be provoked by what I seek.

If I deliberately seek out things to see, touch, feel, that I should not seek, that is sin. But, if I see, touch and therefore feel as part of my work or as part of what the world has placed before me, that is not sin.

When St. Francis encountered the leper and threw up, he did not sin. He didn't mean to throw up - his body just did it. When he used his intellect to deliberately over-ride his body's rejection of the scene, he was able to embrace the humanity of the leper. His intellect allowed him to see what the leprous scabs partially hid. His body saw the scabs, his mind saw the person. His body reacted to the scabs, his mind reacted to the person. Vomiting was not a sin, but embracing the leper was a virtue.

Perhaps a different way of thinking about it will help.

To a certain extent, our bodies are a summary of the whole universe. Our bodies are the bit of the universe we drag with us everywhere we go. The universe presents us with all kinds of things to examine. Because we drag them with us everywhere, our bodies are often the things we spend the most time examining. What our five senses perceive, how our emotions bubble forth, our brain's chemical reactions, these seem central to us, if only because these things are the part of the universe that are always present to us. As Buckaroo Banzai said:

But our bodies are not only a constant part of what the universe presents to us to examine, they are also the part of the universe that serves as a lens through which we view the rest of the universe. Most of the time, I look through my glasses, not noticing the way they balance on my nose. But sometimes, I look directly at my glasses, to see what is on them, and to determine whether or not I am seeing clearly.

My body is the pair of eyeglasses that bring the universe into focus for me. Sometimes, they have specks the size of logs. If we are to see clearly, we need to keep them clean.

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