Calming the Heart
Fifth Sunday of Easter (A) | Fr Allan White speaks of the Word of God who teaches us and calms the human heart
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ In the gospels Jesus sometimes rebukes his disciples, often the complaints are to do with the cardiac problems from which they suffer. Their hearts are blind, obdurate and closed, or they are sluggish and slow, or else they are full of darkness and weighed down by pleasure or sorrows. In our normal everyday life we tend to be rather cautious about our hearts. We do not like to expose them to be probed by others, we keep them as well-guarded as we can. If somebody manages to get under the wire and find a place in our hearts it can sometimes be very inconvenient. We often describe people in terms of their hearts; people can be cold-hearted, hard-hearted, warm-hearted, great-hearted or half-hearted.
In the scriptures the heart does not simply have biological or physiological significance, it has symbolic and metaphysical meaning. For the Old Testament the heart is the innermost core of our being, it is the root of our existence, the place where we are most ourselves. We are often careful about those to whom we choose to reveal the secrets of our heart. We think of the heart lying behind the appearances of our life, it beats behind a façade. In the First book of Samuel, we are told that ‘Man looks on appearances, but the Lord looks to the heart.’ (1 Sam 16,7) It is the penetrating gaze of God that cuts through the sometimes deceitful defenses we erect around our heart, to uncover the secrets therein. Coming close to God is a risky business as Jeremiah discovered; he says to approach God is ‘to risk one’s heart’. (Jr 30,21)
There is deep within each one of us a desire to give our hearts; we believe that in that way we shall find true peace and fulfillment, but many are hampered by not knowing what it is they truly desire. Their pursuit of counterfeits leads to much disturbance and disappointment. Jesus says, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’. The word John uses for ‘troubled’ appears elsewhere in the gospel in connection with the turbulence of water as in the disturbance at the pool of Bethesda. In the synoptic gospels it is connected with the storm on the sea and the disciples’ reaction to Jesus walking on the water. In order to learn the way of the Lord Jesus we have to let the turbulent waters of our own anxieties and concerns subside. One of the Desert Fathers was teaching one of the apprentice monks about prayer and the surrender of the heart. He took a bowl of water in which sand had settled. When he shook the bowl the sand was agitated, and the water became cloudy. When he set it down and the water was still the sand sank to the bottom. It did not disappear but was submerged in the calm. Not letting our hearts be troubled does not mean that our cares and anxieties disappear but that they are covered by the waters of calm confidence in Jesus our pedagogue.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a painting in the Holy Family church in Mexico City.