“I feel like there’s a brick sitting on my heart.”
The speaker is a dedicated, creative woman who has been working as a church professional for many years. She is weary. The same good heart that drew her to a career supporting the life of the spirit makes her especially sensitive to the conflict and turmoil swirling around us all. Fatigue and discouragement are getting to her. She’s not alone.
Fraying At The Edges
Even veteran political and religious leaders express deep concern about the darkness of our days. Anger and discord seem to hang in the air like smoke from a wildfire. Mother Nature has apparently lost her mind as unprecedented storms, droughts and disasters lay waste to whole regions. The perennial tragedies of poverty, violence and war close in and multiply as our world grows ever smaller and more interconnected. The hectic pace of Western society and our own exaggerated expectations of the good life get in the way of our happiness.
At the same time our religious institutions - our traditional guardians of the spirit - are fraying and fading through a combination of scandal, polarization, secularization and simple boredom. The institutions we have depended on to provide a sense of stability and security are instead rocking the boat and messing with the steering.
We need swift, wise, and courageous action to address the crises around us, but it’s difficult to be skillful or brave when our spirits are flagging. Many of us are limping along, our hearts tattered, or we’ve protected ourselves by shutting down. Or perhaps we look up one day and realize we are somewhere we never intended or wanted to be. For our own sake, and the sake of those we care about, we need to find practical methods of keeping our hearts strong and our direction clear.
In so many areas of our lives we’ve become either trapped inside our heads or locked into a reflex emotional response to outside events. If we think about faith at all, we get sidetracked into theological debates, deluded into thinking we’ve got things covered if our particular Theory of Everything trumps our opponents’ pitiful Theory of Everything.
But life is about much more than theories. It’s about capacity, about spirit, about the way to be and behave in the world. Much of what’s most important we know through our hearts, not our heads. Our hearts are not pure emotion, but neither are they pure reason. A wise heart can grasp things intuitively when both reason and emotion come up short. We don’t decide whether or whom to marry solely by consulting an asset/liability list, nor do we decide whether to live an egotistical or a generous life based simply on spreadsheets. Intuition rightly trumps logic more often than we’d like to believe.
Our hearts not only guide us - they also give us the energy to live according to convictions. But many age-old daily rhythms that traditionally nourished our spirits have fallen away. We need to learn from some of the vanishing old ways and find other new methods of creating time and space to replenish our spirits.
Photo credit: Francesca Romana Correa, Flickr