Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mind and Heart

"The longest journey a man must make is the 18 inches from his head to his heart." -Unknown

I might have the most active mind on the planet. That isn't bragging because my mind isn't busy finding the cure for cancer or strategizing how to end famine in Africa. My mind is usually busy rehashing past events, worrying about the future, devising arguments, rationalizations, or defenses for myself...or my favorite absurdity, holding pretend conversations with people about our unresolved issues.

I don't want to live life in my head though. I would much rather live it in my heart. But like the quote above says, it isn't easy to drag our existence from the mind to the heart. Mine is almost always kicking and screaming the entire way. Henri Nouwen tells the story of a man who repeated the phrase "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner" hundreds of thousands of times until one day the man found that the phrase was repeating itself with every beat of his heart. It had become a part of his emotional make-up. It was no longer a thought, or even words, but an internalized piece of who he was as a person.

Some things come naturally to my heart. When I look at my kids, I am full of love for them. I don't go through a list of pros or cons of loving them, or analyze anything about how I feel about them or how I can know what I feel about them is true. It just is. I would love to experience the peace of God the same way I experience love for my kids. Sometimes I do have a taste of that peace that passes understanding. Sometimes my heart is full of calm and rest that has absolutely nothing to do with my thoughts but is the direct experience of God's presence. However, that isn't my default mode.

I would like to experience love, joy, peace, and even pain, loneliness, and sorrow in my heart as internalized realities separate from and transcending the knowledge of them in my mind. I think it takes practice. And in a lot of ways, I think it takes courage. The mind can hold things at a distance, but the heart is vulnerable. This is why people can quote entire passages of scripture and attend church 3 times a week for decades but fail to be moved by the photo of a starving child or fail to be grieved over a sin in their life. I know that because I've lived there. I've known things in my mind but failed to move them to the heart.

What has helped me is starting to think of my heart as the place where God exists within me or as my "home." Again, I have to thank Nouwen for that analogy. And I have to come home over and over again, away from the analyzing and conceptualizing to the raw truth of experiencing things with God. Finding our way home gradually becomes easier, and we may stay at home for longer periods of time. But we can never be permanently at home in this lifetime. That's why the story of the prodigal son has come to mean so much to me. It is a constant homecoming, repeated over and over in my life and always with the same care, concern, and welcome from the Father who loves me more than I can imagine.

I ran across this quote on a friend's facebook status this morning:

"When we engage the Scriptures for spiritual transformation, we make it our top priority to listen to God relationally rather than seeking only to learn more about God cognitively. Our approach is driven by the longing of a lover. We read slowly so that we can savor each word and let its meaning sink in." - Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

I love how it contrasts cognitive and relational experience. I'm finding that slowing down, being still, quiet, and available for experiencing life with God in my inner place is deepening my sense of identity as a child of God.


Rachel said...

Such a great post. Thanks.

Lindsay said...

Wow! There are no words to describe how this post touched my heart today.