The Vindication of Feeling

The vindication of the importance of feeling in our life, and in particular its primacy over reason in all that has to do with man’s contact with the transcendental world, has been one of the great achievements of modern psychology. In the sphere of religion it is now acknowledged that “God known of the heart” gives a better account of the character of our spiritual experience than “God guessed at by the brain”; that the loving intuition is more fruitful and more trustworthy than the dialectic proof. . . .

Of this drive, this urge, thought indeed is but the servant; a skilled and often arrogant servant, with a constant tendency to usurpation. Some form of feeling— interest, desire, fear, appetite— must supply the motive power. Without this, the will would be dormant, and the intellect lapse into a calculating machine.

Further, “the heart has its reasons which the mind knows not of.” It is a matter of experience that in our moments of deep emotion, transitory though they be, we plunge deeper into the reality of things than we can hope to do in hours of the most brilliant argument. At the touch of passion doors fly open which logic has battered on in vain: for passion rouses to activity not merely the mind, but the whole vitality of man.

It is the lover, the poet, the mourner, the convert, who shares for a moment the mystic’s privilege of lifting that Veil of Isis which science handles so helplessly, leaving only her dirty fingermarks behind. The heart, eager and restless, goes out into the unknown, and brings home, literally and actually, “fresh food for thought.” Hence those who “feel to think” are likely to possess a richer, more real, if less orderly, experience than those who “think to feel.”

. . . It was expressed once for all by the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” when he said of God, “By love He may be gotten and holden, but by thought of understanding, never.” That exalted feeling, that “secret blind love pressing,” not the neat deductions of logic, the apologist’s “proofs” of the existence of the Absolute, unseals the eyes to things unseen before.

– by Evelyn Underhill in Mysticism