“I will give You thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart….Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever” (Psalm 138:1,8).
Where can you go in America and avoid the symbol of the heart? On Valentine’s Day we send notes of affection to family, friends and in schools, even near strangers. Bumper stickers proclaim “I V [NY, favorite pet, favorite team, etc.]” It’s almost impossible to find a pop song with some theme other than love—either found, lost, wished for or remembered. It’s something presumed to need no definition of explanation. Yet that’s the simplest way to avoid complete understanding.
A true Christian knows that the heart is a mighty mystery. Everything that comes in touch with the core of our very being enters through the heart. All meditation involves the heart. The mind has several levels, most of which are generally hidden from our consciousness. Thoughts come out in our dreams, daydreams, and even when we most wish they were not present. Obsessions and compulsions invade our thoughts and cause us to think and act in ways that may not be in our best interests. We don’t easily control the workings of our mind. But our hearts express the conditions of our body and soul at every given moment. Everything mental, physical and spiritual forms its impression on the heart. All that comes to us through our senses, surrounding or embracing us, impacts on our hearts. Jesus knows that better than we do.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
How does one purify the heart? It takes at least one lifetime. To begin, one must pay attention to the heart. My sense is that the female is generally better at this than the male, but that may be reverse prejudice—generally, because of course the saints are men and women. Men, however, are culturally conditioned to emphasize reason and so-called “common sense,” meaning to be practical—not swayed by emotion.
Some forms of Christianity tend to emotionalism, pietism, and romanticism. Orthodox Christianity is not among them. On the contrary, those who have by God’s grace and their constant attention achieved purity of heart are anything but gullible and sentimental. They are well aware of what it takes to cleanse the heart of impurities.
They start by watchfulness. They are ever alert to the evil thoughts that invade the person from outside. They utilize the Bible, prayer and church worship to educate themselves in ways favorable to the Lord. They look for ways to thank the Lord for all experiences, even the unpleasant ones that train a Christian to seek the Kingdom of God, and not hope for this world to be an acceptable substitute. By overcoming sin and evil they train the heart to deal with the world as it is, yet to work for its transformation.
Remaining alert, those in touch with their hearts are ever renewed by God’s grace to enhance every hint and expression of what is just and true, good and beautiful in life. By adoring the Lord Almighty, they keep open the channels of the Holy Spirit in Christ to the heavenly Father. They praise Him in their hearts regardless of what their hands are doing and their minds are thinking. They search for the image of God in every human being. They will, in St. Paul’s words, meditate on:
Whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is virtue and if anything is praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).
The heart is the battlefield where the forces of evil confront the grace given to us at baptism. It is also the place where the Holy Spirit prays for us with unspoken words. Through the heart we come in touch with everything that exists in God’s creation. Also through the heart we have access to the Holy Trinity. Medical science is doing marvelous things to correct the defects of our physical hearts, even to the extent of implanting mechanical substitutes for our hearts. True Christians are concerned with the immaterial, spiritual heart, the organ of the soul’s communication with the Holy Trinity.