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Affections: Are They For My Good?

6:00:00 AMEmma Lindle

            Boromir is a character in The Lord of the Rings  by J. R. R. Tolkien. He is in the fellowship who is accompanying Frodo Baggins, the ring bearer. Their task is to bring the ring to Mount Doom and destroy it before it falls into the hands of the evil forces and destroys their civilization. The ring has the power to make its bearer invisible, but its power can easily lead a weak man out of love for his brother and into corruption. For Boromir, disordered feelings of hatred for Frodo and greed for the ring arise. We become afraid of the faculty of the heart with its affections because of its disorders, but Boromir does not numb his heart even with its disordered desires. When his friend Aragorn comes to meet him he confesses his mangled heart and has contrition and hope leading him to a restored humility within the fellowship.His ordered affections of contrition and hope lead him to humility and unity. This was such a heroic moment to watch. Normally, man numbs his heart after a circumstance like Boromir’s with Frodo, but Boromir does not.
If we judge a faculty based on its disorder, we run the risk of fear overriding all the good we’re meant to receive through it. For example, our intellects are weak, but it wouldn’t be helpful to judge our intellectual faculty by looking at its limitations. The mind is not intended to forget. It is intended for memory. The same is true for the heart. We may want to discard feelings because they can be disordered. We must look at it as it is intended to work. For example, the affective response of loving kindness toward a child having a conflict with a friend, or contrition for sin. Without the feeling, something seems to be lacking. Feelings are intended as the full flourishing of man’s virtue. It seems even Bl. Mother Teresa experiencing the dark night of the soul had a sadness that her love for Jesus was not fully flourished with an affinity for him.
       Our feelings are not everything, but as described by Professor Maria Wolter, “feelings are an important and primary access to values.” Opposite from sentimentality which is a deadening or flattening of feelings, spiritual feelings open us up to the axiological contours of the world describes Wolter. For example, what if a wedding had no joy, or a funeral had no sadness? Even if the good of marriage or the evil of death was perceived by the mind, even if the vows were freely chosen by the will, and the death was accepted without an act of revenge, still without the heart engaged in these events something is missing. The heart is what connects us. The affections utterly linked to our minds and wills, helps us to bring our thoughts and choices into communion with others.
           We cannot deny the daily encounter with our disordered affections, but then we meet that old man who is at peace. If we were to ask him about his life, we would hear the story of a man who saw his affections as an ethical task. We would hear intertwined with the events of his life, an attitude of seriousness toward his heart and constant ordering of his affections to lead him to the point of the victorious peace he experiences today. This experience is possible for us.  
           Summer, for me, brings a lot of time with children. I was babysitting four boys, and I was struck by a moment I had with the youngest. Each day this week I’ve picked them up from Vacation Bible School, we go home and I make lunch. The youngest brother is four. On this particular day I knew he wasn’t going to make it to lunch. He was a mess, easily upset at everything, even after a snack. I like to have lunch together, but it seemed better to give him lunch before his brothers. He ate and was a new little kid.
           Some of our feelings are bodily or psychic feelings. These feelings, like the little boys hunger, don’t require us to know the object of the feeling. Though it can be helpful to know what is causing the feeling, knowing the cause isn’t necessary for the feeling to be felt. He might not have been aware that he was hungry, but he still felt the discomfort and fatigue. Other examples of feelings in these categories include moodiness or migraines. We don’t necessarily know there cause, but we still feel them. Because we are not required to understand the object of these feelings, they lack a transcendent character.
           The third type of feeling is spiritual. Spiritual feelings don’t necessarily refer to sanctity, but to the feelings coming from the center of our person, from our “I” or our heart. Spiritual feelings are distinct from bodily and psychic feelings because they are intentional. This means that they are meaningfully related to an object. For example, my love is meaningfully related to my siblings, God, specific people. We don’t wake up and say, “I’m in love” without having a specific person in mind. Spiritual feelings also require a personal response or stance to something. This is the opposite of reacting in a fit of anger not equivalent to the situation. Spiritual feelings allow us to respond as we cognize or think about an object and take a stance. For example, prostitution or child abuse are objects of the spiritual feeling of anger.
            An understanding of the heart begins by looking at how it is intended to function, seeing feelings role in the human experience, and distinguishing the types of feelings. Our hearts are worth our effort, just as we know our minds and wills are. We experience ordered affections and see how beautifully they illuminate the human spirit. Our affections are a beautiful gift, but just as we must train the mind and the will, we must order the heart.  

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