Take Heart-On words with power

Take Heart-On words with power

Take Heart

I watched a woman being interviewed. She sat in a wheelchair because she was elderly and feeble. She said that she was dead for she had lost her heart. The psychiatrist asked her to place her hand over her breast to feel her heart beating: it must be there if she could feel its beat. “That,” she said, “is not my real heart.” James Hillman, (Jungian psychologist) quoted in S. H. Buhner, 2010, p. 21).

I love that response. There was no hesitation there in understanding and using language metaphorically. Many of us are wary of that part of us or of others which knows and feels ideas and phenomena beyond the visible world—in the realm of that which can’t be proved. It’s funny what we can accept and what we cannot, what words we feel fine using and which words we ridicule silently, aloud, or perhaps  are afraid of. I know people who are fine with talking about the heart as the source of deeper feelings or the gut as the source of intuitions but to talk of spirit matters would take them over the edge of the precipice. They do not jump. I know people who are fine with the words, heart, spirit, and soul to express longings, callings, suffering, but who find their use in the religious realm unacceptable and the word God absolutely taboo.

Like many people, I am adverse to turning abstract concepts into absolutes. I have experienced an antipathy to some of the ways words from the Christian or other spiritual traditions are misused. I am angered when they are adopted in the interest of sowing hate and discord, of dividing people one from the other. In many instances I have kept away from using the word “god” because I feel the ultimate existential questions of why there is something rather than nothing and why we are here can’t be solved by personification.

Yet, theological and spiritual language has an important place in human life. Some words from these traditions seem charged with the force of the great mystery. Northrup Frye called them “words with power.” God, spirit, soul, faith, heaven, hell, grace are like vessels holding religious ideas concentrated and distilled from centuries of humans’ deep feelings, powerful experiences, meditations, and long thoughts. The language of faith and religious institutions can cling to the person using them and may be accepted or rejected based on our feelings about that person –their sincerity, the depth of their compassion, and the breadth of their inclusiveness.

the light in the rock, the light from the rocks,  -courtesy of A.M. Schaefer

The rejection of these words as describing any sort of reality may also stem from a fear of the unknowable. Perhaps we don’t feel sufficiently defended against the aspects of life and mystery these words point to. Perhaps a leap into theological beliefs might demand some response we are not prepared to make. And for some the existence of what is often called evil –knowledge and experience of human depravities and destructiveness—can  be strong reasons to turn against religious traditions, their language, and their beliefs. There are variations of this from “How could a God of love let my son die?” to “Religions create division and are causes for wars.” While these are about beliefs, they are created by words. There are so many reasons to be wary.

And yet, I live comfortably with the idea that there are important existences that humans can’t pin down and attach a proof to, dimensions of the universe that even scientists have no certainty about and use metaphoric language in attempts to describe. I think a life without questions of ontology and cosmology is a life diminished of sources of meaning. And any religious beliefs that come out of human experiences and that leave people kinder and softer, more inclusive and less dogmatic, I respect and leave open.

I appreciate the spiritual sensibilities that come out of most Indigenous cultures because they are grounded in the Earth and encompass the universe. I use the word Creator in those times I feel a need to personalize the great mystery. I also believe in the concept of the sacred and feel its respectfulness supports living thoughtfully in and protecting natural environments and places held to be sacred to cultures and peoples.

I am grateful pretty much at all times for the creative nature of humans and the ability to express aspects of life not amenable to the language of the everyday. I don’t question the need for compassion or that dreams could have some meaning that might relate to how you live or might better live. If by soul is meant some part of the human makeup that feels things deeply, appreciates the aesthetic dimension of human life, is open to flashes of insight, and startling contradictions of what was previously felt or thought; I have one. If by spirit is meant the longing to transcend, to connect to life forms and forces at infinitely great distances, to miss nothing, to believe everything that is possible to believe then I have a spirit. Can I make clear distinctions between spirit and soul? Not really, but I know how psychologists who respect mystery describe them as different but equally necessary to a human life fully lived.

If some people are most comfortable collapsing the soul and spirit into the concept of the human heart as if by this move, they are ridding them of any divine nature, I can understand that. But I might suggest they are not necessarily leaving the field of spirit altogether. If the heart is believed to be a muscle pumping blood to all parts of the brain and body or just a collection of cells, mystery remains. Even our cells interconnect and communicate with other cells. Atoms connect across time and space and can affect each other and change when observed. Even the universe is considered by many cosmologists to be infinite. Science is finding the reality underlying the universe to be disturbingly statistical, yet unpredictable and mysterious. Even our cells seem miraculous. So, speaking of my heart instead of soul or spirit still gives the word a touch of the sacred.

I feel that the spirit and soul are part of what makes us valuable to the Earth and the cosmos and that feel is the right word to use. I want those words to have meanings that matter to the good life—to be real, to stand for real dimensions of humans—even without their being found by neurosurgeons or new x-ray-like technologies. What is gained when we allow for the possibility that many ideas and potentialities veiled in the mystery of what can’t be known should be respected and given room in our life?  More wonder and awe, more sources of meaning, more humility, are some gifts that come to mind. I love the idea of the possible, the might be. There is a kind of certainty that seems to be the death of the soul. Be open. Take heart.

Comments are closed.