Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
It’s a gift for the taking…the means for enduring the heartache which is a certainty of the human condition…the inspiration for building a better world, one that is just and compassionate, enlightening, and true…the clarity around our individual and communal purpose in life…. the healing peace that surpasses all understanding…it’s a gift for the taking. The Lord said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God is written on our hearts. The Church is integral to significant events of our life: baptism, marriage, death. Perhaps, even more importantly, the Church exists for everyday in between, helping us to develop our faith, the saving grace of our life. What we know to be true is that we need to make an investment. We need to find the time to tend to our faith. To bear fruit, we need to practice seeking. We might even need to ask God for the desire to seek God before we experience the desire to seek. Our faith evolves through practice, through prayer and reflection. “I will write it on your heart and I will be your God.” Let’s begin at the beginning. What does it mean that God is written on our hearts?
Sometimes, it seems random the things that we remember. Do you ever wonder about the pieces of life that remain in your memory? My oldest memory is of being in the kitchen in our house in Simsbury, CT. I could not have been more than two years old. I am looking at my Dad, who is standing in the doorway to the kitchen, reaching up to doorframe above him and looking me with a smile on his face. The memory emotes playfulness and joy. Memories of beloved family members seem obvious; these memories are treasured.
I have another memory, which I find intriguing that I remember it at all. The memory is of a made-for-tv movie that I watched when I was a teenager. The movie is unmemorable, except for an interesting facet of the movie, which I remember wondering about for some time. I vaguely remember that the movie involved a male astronaut, who died on a space mission. For whatever reason, which I can’t recall, the powers-that-be did not want the public to know that the mission had failed, so they found a recruit to carry on this man’s life. The recruit underwent plastic surgery to replicate the appearance of the astronaut who died. Through indoctrination, the recruit assumed the personality, experiences, knowledge, and behaviors of the astronaut. I don’t remember any more of the plot. However, what I do remember is this….the astronaut’s wife knew that this man who looked exactly like her husband, and was trained to act exactly like her husband, was not her husband. She knew, in her heart, this man was not her husband. Why do I hold onto this memory of a made-for-tv movie from more than forty years ago? I think, perhaps, because I find emotions intriguing, the mysterious connection between the heart and the mind, the intangible nature of our reality.
Let’s think about experiences in our life when we know something in our heart. If you have children, you might recall a time when you knew your child was not well even without overt symptoms. Something in their manner or in their behavior caused you to tap into your love for them and care for them. This knowledge is a bond between parent and child. Or, perhaps you have a friend who thinks the way you do. In conversation, you might finish each other’s sentences. You tap into your connection with this person, and go with them in their thought process…an intriguing interaction between the heart and the mind. We know in our relationships with one another that this connection between the heart and the mind exists. How do we know God in our heart? How do we experience this intangible reality?
We live in a time of rationality, of scientific fact, of proof and documentation. We do not readily accept the invisible, the other reality. However, our persistence in the seen over the unseen has not always been the case. Mysticism, integral to our faith, was more socially acceptable at other times in history. In the Late Middle Ages, mysticism flourished in Europe. Our horizons expanded: God is more than mighty and powerful; God is loving and intimate and desires relationship. The Great Mystics of this time wrote about their spiritual union with God. Their spirituality flourished in a time that readily accepted a multi-dimensional understanding of reality – the seen and the unseen. Carolly Erickson, a medieval historian, “reminds us that most of humankind…nearly all those who live in times past, and a great many living even now, outside industrialized society—have subscribed to that richer, multidimensional world. Inherently ‘more real’ than everyday reality, this noncorporeal world has always been thought to surround and sustain [reality] and to percolate up into it at regular intervals, visible and audible for those who are attuned to its presence” (Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics, San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993, p. 84).
In our rational world, many associate mysticism with irrationality. Yet, our negative connotation of irrationality betrays a deeper, broader, more complete understanding of reality. God is written on our hearts. Here we are, once again, followers of Jesus being encouraged to recognize the gift of living counter-culturally. We encounter God within ourselves. How do we experience this intangible reality? We seek it through prayer and meditation. As our prayer book says, “Let us be still and know that you are God.”
Teresa of Avila, one the Great Mystics, might be an inspiration for you. In her book, Interior Castle, she teaches about union with God through seven stages of interior prayer. This work is a gem in terms of understanding how our prayer life can lead us to knowing God in our heart. The first few stages of prayer focus on quieting the heart and avoiding distractions. The later stages bring us closer to union with God. Even Teresa, the Great Mystic, acknowledges the challenge in developing a prayer life. It takes some practice. Yet, she points to the “peace and delight” that becomes known through the discipline of prayer – the sense of God’s presence with her always, being a part of a continual conversation with God.
We know the bonds created through the love of family and friends. These relationships become instinctual. Similarly, through a disciplined prayer life, we connect with God – we make that connection between mind and heart. We learn to live with God, to converse continually. It’s written on our hearts…the means for enduring the heartache which is a certainty of the human condition…the inspiration for building a better world, one that is just and compassionate, enlightening and true…the clarity around our individual and communal purpose in life….the healing peace that surpasses all understanding…it’s written on our hearts. It’s a gift…let’s take it.