Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. – Thomas R. Kelly
These words by Thomas Kelly point us toward our own hearts as the place to meet God. “But our hearts are broken,” we cry, almost in protest. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” we quote. “How can we find God there, and even if we did, how could we ever be sure it was God and not our own imagination or desires?”
These are all real concerns, and over time, we’ll deal with them here. But for now, I’d like to assert that Kelly is right. The heart is the place to meet God. And here’s why:
The Lord is most active (and thus, most evident) in the deepest recesses of our own hearts. This is so because that is where the struggle for control plays out. Your heart is what is most real about you, and as such, that is where the search for meaning and identity is most raw and most real.
We typically go to God in prayer asking him – begging him – to change our circumstances, in one form or another. And we usually don’t get much in the way of a response. I hate to have to break it to you, but most of the time it’s your heart, not your circumstances, that God is most trying to change. It’s how he rolls.
Your heart is where God is most eager to do his transforming work, and that transformation is what you are most resisting. So if you want to see God and hear from him, you must learn to pay attention to what’s going on in your own heart. You really will find that he’s amazingly present and engaged. He’d like you to be engaged too.
So we must learn to pay attention to what’s really going on in the deepest recesses of our own hearts. A good way to begin to learn to do this is to pay attention to our emotions. Your emotions are not the same thing as your heart, but they are pretty good windows into your heart.
The psalmist advises (Ps. 4:4), “When you are disturbed, do not sin; search your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.”
In other words, when you’re angry of frustrated or sad or scared or overjoyed, get quiet and still and meditate a bit on what’s going on in your heart. Why are you feeling the way you’re feeling? What, specifically, about what’s going on in your life right now is making you feel that way? Ask the Lord what he wants to say to you about all this. Then get quiet and listen, paying attention to any spontaneous thoughts you have while you’re listening for an answer. Those may well be God speaking to you.
As a starting place, give yourself fifteen minutes to put that last paragraph into practice. Try it every day for a week. It might also help to journal through this process. Journaling has really helped me.
St. Ignatius had a word for this kind of activity. He called it examen (probably pronounced with a long “a”) In my next post, I’ll tell you a bit about examen and how it can help you get in touch with your heart.