A Clear Head

Herodias’s own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests.  The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”  He even swore [many things] to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.  She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”  She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

–Mark 6:22-24–

Here is the trick in life: don’t act on your feelings; act on your mind.  Be mind-directed, not feellings-directed….  Ironically you’ll feel better if you do.  That’s the payoff.  The payoff is you’ll be happier if you’re mind-directed than if you’re feelings-directed.  Feelings-directed not only guarantees bad behavior; it guarantees bad outcome for you.  You will be less happy, you will feel less good if you live based on your feelings.

–Dennis Prager[1]

            The dance that Herodias’ daughter performed for King Herod was no innocent ballet like “Swan Lake.”  No!  It was a lewd burlesque designed to arouse sexual passion.  Live pornography you might call it.  Under the influence of sexual passion, Herod was willing to throw away half his kingdom.  He ended up by killing Saint John the Baptist, a righteous prophet.

            One takeaway from our Gospel is that we should never make important decisions while under the influence of strong passions—whether they be sexual passions, anger, grief, or even horror.  It’s not a good idea to do your taxes on your honeymoon.  I’d never trust a heart surgeon who habitually throws temper tantrums.  A widow ought not to make any crucial decisions within a year after her husband’s death.  The worst time for a legislature to pass gun-control laws is in the immediate wake of a mass shooting.  In short, wisdom and passion do not mix.  When important decisions are to be made, it’s best to act with a calm mind.

            When a glass of muddy water is allowed to stand, the mud settles to the bottom, and the water becomes clear.  Similarly, when our minds are calm and undisturbed by passions and emotions, we are apt to see clearly and make sound judgments.

            Here is another image:  When a person stands upright, the head is over the heart, and both are over the guts.  If we are to make wise decisions, decisions that are both sound and upright, our mind must rule our will, and both must override our passions.[2]

[1] Fireside Chat, Episode 77, 15 April 2019, my own transcription.

[2] This idea entered my mind through a talk given by Dr. David Allen White, who taught World Literature at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, for almost three decades.  In an essay entitled “The Problem with Modern Music,” Professor Allen asserts: “As everything in God’s universe is ordered and hierarchical, so each of us as a human creature has been designed by God as ordered and hierarchical in our being.  The intellect, the mind, is at the top and thus should rule over everything below.  The heart, always considered the center of the emotions, is located at the center of our being.  The seat of the lower passions is appropriately located below.  We see this in order as we stand upright and we can also see the nature of the hierarchy in the design–the intellect must rule over the emotions, the intellect and the emotions must rule over the lower passions.  The mind must discipline the heart, and the mind and the heart must discipline the lower passions.  When all three work in order, we have a coherent and balanced human being.”