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Archive for February 24th, 2011

The Geometry of the Heart

Make known Your ways to me, O Lord, and teach me Your paths (Psalm 24 [25 in Hebrew])

This noontime prayer is a noble one, and one of whose effects we largely pray in ignorance. And thank God for that ignorance. We do not pray these words and expect then to follow them with “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). And yet, unless I am greatly mistaken, this is the methodology by which we learn God’s ways.

This is so because the knowledge for which we pray is not the knowledge of reason. God is not an accumulation of a number of angles subject to geometric proof. God is a Person–Three Persons, actually–and thus is known by that organ which knows persons, the heart. The heart is that mysterious place in the human body and soul in which is centered the will, the emotions, the desires, and, yes, the intellect. And the knowledge it acquires and promotes is not that of the syllogism or the scale.

Because God is a Person, by asking to know his ways, we are asking to come into deeper engagement with Someone who is at once familiar and utterly unfamiliar; whom we recognize and the stranger who terrifies. He is the Lover of the Soul, as in the Song of Solomon, and the Warrior King of the Exodus. He is the Potter of Jeremiah, and the abandoned Wife of Hosea. God is spoken of throughout Scripture by way of poetry and metaphor, because these are the ways language connects our hearts together, the pathways that open knowledge of one another to one another. These are the heart-syllogisms by which we collect knowledge of God.

But God is not bereft of other methods to make known to us his ways. The way of testing and discipline demonstrates his love for us, as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear. Our Lord himself, having just been called the Father’s beloved Son, in whom the Father was well-pleased, was driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert. There, weakened by fasting, alone, he was tested by the Accuser. “Oh, really? God’s beloved Son, eh? Bet you’re hungry.” And on the Cross, the Accuser taunts him again by way of willing accomplices, “Oh, really? God’s Son, are you? Why don’t you come on down and prove it?”

That we will suffer pain and abandonment is unbearably hard to accept. That such an experience is the signal of God’s love is at times impossible to comprehend. What angle is there that will give us the leverage of understanding here? What principle is there that we may stake down to give us purchase to climb the mystery further? We are holding on by one hand, dangling out over the abyss. Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?

We are left with nothing else than the geometry of the heart. The child in the medical office, who feels now the pain she did not expect, looks wide-eyed and tearful into the eyes of her father and seeks there the answer to this puzzle. And then the embrace, the cries, the tears, but knowing this: in her father’s arms is the place she wants to be. And so our Lord bows his head, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit” and breathes his last.

None of this computes. Reason takes offense. This does not fit the grid. It is a non sequitur. And yet it is knowledge as sure and as certain as any deduction.

The heart knows in fits and starts. It knows by meandering. Our lives do not unfold before us like a glove compartment map. We each explore our uncharted West, plotting our geometrical heart patterns as we go. We may be blessed by being able to take a sighting and head in a direction from that sighting for days. In the gale, our light extinguished, we may only feel our way along step by slippery step. We will take wrong turns, and have to double back. But this is the way of the heart. And this is how his way is made known to us. We must keep our hearts open and humble. The chances of chasing a mirage are great. And yet, deep calls to deep, and God knows our hearts. And he will make known to us his ways.

“Keep your heart with all watchfulness” (Proverbs 4:22).

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