The two emotions that motivate our actions
Network Norwich guest columnist Norwich Quaker Diana Stephenson ponders on the two primary human emotions: love and fear.
There are two primary human emotions that motivate our actions: love and fear. “Perfect love casteth out fear” so ordinary people can do (1) extraordinary things like care 24/7 for a partner with Alzheimers or attempt to break up a fight in the early hours of a Sunday morning in Norwich.
Jesus, along with the other great religious leaders, was so filled with the power of love, that he managed to inspire a group of ordinary disciples to set the world alight, not, in the beginning anyway, with fire and fighting but with love. Unfortunately, we are not perfect, so we have to start legislating to regulate behaviour or to keep the power with the patriarchs.
Recently, I celebrated the funeral of my 94-year-old cousin, Audrey, at the City of London crematorium. She had always been forthright in her view that religious belief was intellectually incoherent, and so it would not have been appropriate for the service to be religious.
She would have been pleased that a female non-cleric officiated at her cremation service, because she was ahead of her time: one of the first female maths graduates who got married in her lunch hour in order to continue working after marriage. Sixty years later such a law is hard to believe, because our thinking has moved on issues of the rights of women in British society, and even the patriarchs in the Church of England have ordained women priests.
My theology is always heuristic; ie subject to revision in the light of new revelation. It is also, like many women, grounded in my own experience. Not for me the dusty pages of a Biblical concordance when a sermon is written between changing a nappy, or preparing a meal for my family or sitting by the bedside of an elderly relative. The worthwhile nature of these activities is no guarantee of the intellectual rigour of my beliefs, but it grounds my understanding of what is true and what is important.
A “good” funeral will bring us face to face with one of the few certainties of life: we will all die. .And what then? “And in that sleep of death what dreams may come?” (2)
Audrey was brave enough to live with no belief in an afterlife, beyond the wonderful legacy she leaves in the hearts of those who were lucky enough to know her, and the more enlightened social policies that her painstaking research brought about.
What is this “quintessence of dust” that is a human being? What stories will inspire us to reach beyond our immediate needs to desire to make the world a better place? It will be the stories that Jesus told of the kingdom of heaven. It will be the poets and the musicians and artists. It will be the non-violent stand of those who emulate Ghandi’s: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
It will be the stories of Thich Nhat Hanh grounded in a lifelong practice of meditation and mindfulness:” Peace is every step”
I know that “I stand on the shoulders of giants”. I also know that all my humanity grew in the love and security that I received as a baby and a child from my parents and all the adults who nurtured me. That humanity is now nurtured not in lots of words but in silence, from a place deep within which can only be visited when I stop talking.
“You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one” (3)
1. 1 John 4.18
2 Hamlet: Act 3 Scene 1 line 72
3 John Lennon; Imagine
Watch out for another guest columnist next week before the return of James Knight.