Toorak Uniting Church

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Learning by Heart

John 2: 20 – 28, 32 – 33
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Lent 5
22 March 2015

Some of my fellow ministers are wary of talking about faith and the heart. First because the heart is a metaphor for the emotions and the feelings one has. And secondly among many there is the desire to see Christian faith and human life through a uniquely rational lens. I love the image of the heart as the centre of the human being rather than the brain. When we talk about the importance of the brain we are usually referring to the mind: our perceptions, interpretations and understandings. There are those who would suggest that our mind can never be contained in our brain, because our mind is all that we see, know, feel and perceive… Maybe that is heart.

Anyway from my point of view the "metaphor" of the heart is closest to what I think religion and spirituality are really about. It was Jesus quoting the Hebrew writers when he said, "love God with your heart, mind and soul." We know that he meant, as the ancient prophets did, that we were to centre our lives on love and a love that even transcended ourselves and must include our whole being.

If I was to say to someone, someone I love… "Oh darling, my mind tells me that I love you with my whole mind…" I am not sure I would get the desired response. I shared an office when I was studying in Toronto with a young man who was a cognitive philosopher. He and I became good friends. He later became an assistant Professor of Philosophy at CUNY, the "City University of New York" – no mean feat. While we were good friends, we were on the opposite table when it came to Religious philosophy. He once told me that when we can truly understand a sunset as a mathematical equation we will be liberated from the poetic tyrant that has bound us for millennia.

There may be some truth in his argument. I have to say that I do get irritated by some of the sentimental and archaic hymns we sing. They may be poetic but they do tend to distort reality. And even the struggle to take an ancient text and retell it into something that touches both the 21st Century mind and the 21st Century heart is not easy. However, I still think that poetics, metaphor, paradox and symbolism are the stuff that changes us from the inside out. But it must not insult or demean the modern mind.

Agrarian images once again
To illustrate the statement I have just made, could this passage from John be a better example?

Truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

There are three aspects to this. First the spiritual. This is all about dying to one’s way of being and being born to another way. Maybe preachers say this too often, but there is something fundamentally wrong about living an unreflective life (although I think Socrates said that) and a life that has surrendered a truer way of being in the world.

Through our education, parenting and culture we are given a life and told that this is "your" life!! Why do we have to accept this? Maybe there is another life, another way of being for us. I know I have quoted this before, but for me it is profound.

Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am… Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks--we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.

For me that is the admonition from John’s narrative: "Die to the old self and live to the new." But the head really won’t get you there. It will only be the heart. The fact is that seeds do not actually die. They transmute and transform, they release their energy and give birth to the new seed and grain. If the seed has the capacity to remain a seed and never releases its life-giving force, then it really does die.

The Cuban/French/American writer Anaïs Nin is quoted as saying:

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

That must be the "heart" experience of a seed, a grain. If I was a grain what would I experience?

Those who love their life in this world will lose it, and those who forfeit their life in this world will keep it forever.

How many great people have said the same thing? They never say hate the world or its people. That doesn’t make any sense. But there is a time in all of our lives when we reject the life given on to us either on a silver plate or wrapped in newspaper and we say, "Thank you but no, thank you - my heart tells me that there is another and a better way."

But I can tell you that whatever that way is, I want it to be paved with lottery tickets and easy answers to life’s most difficult questions… Sorry friends, but John’s ancient wisdom says:

"When the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, those who serve him must follow him, and be his servants. If you serve me, God will honour you. Now," says Jesus, "my soul is troubled; what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

I know many commentators will emphasise that Jesus being lifted up is a reference to the cross. And I can see that, as I mentioned last week. But I think it is something greater. The cross and the resurrection is the lifting up. To be lifted up is to be placed in a new position, and to see a new perspective: life is different and I can see reality as it is.

The heart, the centre of our being, is changed…or perhaps more accurately…is being changed.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2015

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