On the power of the heart

art 15 Sacred Heart icon“Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?” Knowing the answer to that question was more important to John Wesley than knowing what anyone believed. “If it is,” he would say, “then give me your hand” (2 Kings 10:15). If our hearts are bound to one another in love, if we are committed to one another in a relationship that goes far deeper than a superficial agreement, then the details of what we believe, how we worship, and how we practice our faith are secondary.

That’s the genius of Wesley’s catholic spirit. In Christ’s reconciling ministry that unites us all – Jew and non-Jew, saint and sinner, neighbor and stranger, friend and enemy – law gives way to love; boundaries of tradition, custom, and practice are dissolved; and authentic relationships come to life. Until we reach that point, where relationship is more important than doctrine or practice or belief, we won’t even catch a glimpse of the reign of God that is spread out upon the earth.

“The days are surely coming,” Jeremiah heard God say, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:31-34).

The life-giving relationships Christ makes possible begin in our hearts. The guide to our healed and healing relationship with God, with each other, and with all of creation, is no longer written on stone – external, objective, and unchanging. It’s written internally, on the heart, soft and compassionate, growing and evolving. It can no longer be preserved in rules; it must be sustained moment-by-moment in love. Authentic relationships begin where Jeremiah understood our new covenant with God would be written: in our hearts.

Seeds of the authentic relationships that are the outcome of our faith are planted in our hearts through our families, friends, neighbors, and spiritual mentors. Even our adversaries sow and help nourish the seeds of growth toward maturity. Eventually there is an experience, an insight or awakening, that causes the heart-seed to blossom in its own unique way. When that happens, we start to live the life God is creating us to live.

For Apple founder Steve Jobs, the experience came when he dropped out of college, went to India to find himself, and discovered values that would shape the rest of his life and career. At his funeral, one of his friends said of that experience, “he had this incredible realization that his intuition was his greatest gift. He needed to look at the world from inside out. His message was to look inside yourself and realize yourself.”

Even adversity can release the power of the heart. When Ellen Degeneres first came out as a lesbian, the reaction from Hollywood was devastating. Advertisers pulled their funding, and she was forced to cancel her show for three years. During that time, she began to look for happiness and wholeness within herself. “I don’t think it was a failure,” she told Ann Curry in 2012, “but it certainly gave me a lot of time to sit still and go, ‘Who am I?’” That’s when she said she found her center and claimed the spiritual lifestyle that sustains her today.

Stories abound of watershed moments in which people discovered the inner power of the heart that transformed their lives and the world around them. They didn’t gain power from outside so much as they discovered a power within. It’s a power that can make us well and whole; it can heal the world; and it’s available to all of us. We won’t find it by searching for a different congregation or a different set of friends or a greener pasture beyond the next hill. We find it by looking within.

Isaac the Syrian, seventh-century bishop of Nineveh, wrote: “Be at peace with your own soul; then heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and you will see the things that are in heaven, for there is but one single entry to them both. The ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul. Dive into your soul and you will discover the stairs by which to ascend.”

In my culture I was taught not to reveal too much of my heart, not to show too much emotion, or to show it in controlled and contained ways. I suspect most of us mainstream white Protestants were taught that, too. Do you become uncomfortable when someone near you displays strong, raw emotion in public? Are you uneasy when someone becomes a little too emotional while sharing a prayer concern during worship? How easy is it for you to sway expressively or even to dance when singing a hymn? Do you pull back a little when someone shares a deep and unfamiliar feeling?

It’s not only doctrine and faith practice that I find inhibiting of authentic relationship for me, as those things did for Wesley. There are lots of social, cultural, and family rules that prevent me from opening my heart and revealing my true self. Is that true for you, too? Since only my true self can be in true relationship, if I don’t “enter into the treasure house that is within” me – if I don’t discover and liberate and honor my true self and the true self of every other person – then I expect I’ll never enter into the authentic relationships that I believe to be the purpose God has for my life. It’s a tough struggle, and I couldn’t do it without the company of others who are engaged in the same struggle. But in the heart, there’s power to succeed.

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