Thursday, February 10, 2011

Follow Your Heart

God is a spring of living water which flows unceasingly into the hearts of those who pray.
                                               ~ St. Louis de Montfort

I recently cleaned out an old email account and as I read through several old emails from my college days my jaw dropped. I was shocked at the person I was. I seesawed between an awe of the saucy, cutting way I articulated myself and a horror of my arrogance that was through the roof.

I also wondered if recent years have led to a serious drop in my IQ as I read articulate emails discussing the intricacies of Kant’s categorical imperative and shot questions back and forth with my professors in a cavalier way that indicated to me that I was really just kind of showing off. 

“Who was this girl?” I wondered.

Even as this thought crossed my mind I smiled, I knew the answer. I have not become any less intelligent. I am just simpler; like a more purified glass of water rather than a complicated cocktail. I am no longer a creation of my own making.

Recently, I got into a discussion with someone who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus. He gave me several arguments for his beliefs and I set off to try and prove him wrong. As I dived into a part of theology I had never really explored before, I felt a certain fear behind my frenetic pod-cast listening and internet browsing.

What was I afraid of?

I sat down in the chapel to discern what was going on in my heart. As I drank in the peace I began to realize that in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Theresa, how could you have joined a religious order, let alone a religion without being able to defend the divinity of Jesus?” I really was flabbergasted at myself for lacking such fundamental knowledge concerning the Christian faith.

When I stepped away from organized religion I was fourteen and at the time I told my mom, “I know plenty of bad Christians. I am going to be a good person. I don’t think I need a religion to do that.”

Spending more than ten years away from the Christian faith I depended entirely on my reason to lead me down the road of life, to help me to act ethically. I thought I was smart so I could make it on my own. I felt I did not need traditions or doctrines to hold me down. I did not need anything to figure things out; I could do it all by myself. Reason was my god. It was the answer to everything.

College life taught me to depend even more on my mind. I learned to disdain anything not well-reasoned. Most liberal arts schools emphasize growth in “critical thinking” but from my experience this often translates to learning not just methods of logical reasoning but the art of harsh criticism, of tearing something apart until nothing remains except self satisfied smiles.

I hope you do not mistake what I am saying for some kind of fundamentalist emphasis on faith, with no respect for the faculties of our mind. On the contrary, I give partial credit to my intellect for leading me back to God. One thing I realized as my conversion grew closer was that since I believed in miracles, unexplained phenomenon in life that science cannot explain, I could not really remain an atheist or even an agnostic. I reasoned that since I believed the laws of nature were able to be bent it meant that Someone had to be doing the bending and I reasoned that it had to be a Someone rather than a something because an inanimate force ruling the universe is too impersonal to work miracles of healing, etc.

But there came a point in my conversion when God asked me to follow Him, not with my mind but with my heart. I made steps toward things that I did not understand. I made changes in my life because of an inner prompting. But when others asked me why, I stuttered and sounded like a fool trying to explain.

I was able to make this step toward my heart and away from my mind because God gave me the grace to have an iota of understanding of the distance between me and God. As humans, we like to build our own personal towers of Babel, shortening the distance between us and God, pretending we have everything figured out. But often, we are only willing to believe that God knows what we can understand and nothing more.

As I began this journey of the heart I felt terrified. I was used to a life where I could articulate why I was doing everything I was doing in a way that would make the person I was talking to wonder if they should be doing the same thing. I could convince others of ideas that were drenched in the perfume of falsehood simply with impressive acrobatic skills of reasoning. I was a con artist of truth because I had conned myself into thinking that truth was whatever I could figure out with the limits of my own intellect.

When I finally gave into following the inner instincts of the heart, it was like being led blindfolded across huge chasms between mountains of understanding. It was at the same moment terrifying as it was liberating. I could see myself making leaps and bounds in the spiritual life, not due to anything I was doing myself but what I was letting God do within my heart. I gave up the power of being able to articulate everything I understood so that God could lead me to levels of wisdom that only the heart could understand.

Recently, when I began my research on the divinity of Christ, I let my mind take control, the mind that has been purified to some extent of secular values and its ultra critical mode of being, but not completely. My mind can still behave like an enemy spy, always ready to pounce, to sew seeds of doubt.  My mind was still not trustworthy, yet I had gone back to depending entirely on it. As I let this anxious mind take over, I shut the curtain on my heart. I did not want wisdom that I could not articulate; I wanted to win an argument.

As I wandered through this heartless desert, I felt tiny and alone, as if I had woken up from a dream and found myself at the edge of a cliff looking down. Somehow I knew that I had been down there in the valley, deep in the mysteries of God but my mind could not connect to them. I was like a millionaire who had traded her bursting bank account for a child’s piggy bank.

When I sat in prayer in front of the tabernacle, I felt as if there was an ocean between me and Jesus. I sat as disjointed thoughts about Trinitarian theology rolled around in my head. I felt smart again, giving myself a pat on the back for delving into complicated ideas, but I was really completely lost and God was again just a distant something.

Now I realize that through this experience God is calling me to build more lines of communication between my mind and heart. He is not asking me to depend solely on my heart forever. On the contrary, I am a Catholic and if you know anything about this faith, it is the religion of faith meeting reason. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, the Church Fathers, St. Augustine, the list goes on and on of the truly great minds in the Church. The Church does not disdain philosophy or any other system of thought that pursues truth. Rather, it recognizes that God uses many things to lead a person closer to Him. Our minds are made for just that reason, to pursue the Truth, which is God, whether we know it or not.

These experiences may resonate with you, or may not, we are all different, but I want to leave you with the prayer I am saying to God as a result of this experience:

God, lead my mind to drink at the waters of my heart where you dwell. And help my heart to take the lead as I engage my God-given ability of reason to pursue you ever further, to the ends of the earth.

May God bless all of the beautiful hearts of those I love and those I do not know.

1 comment:

  1. I love your reflection Thesesa Agnes. Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Mathew 18:3. Children don't rely on intellect, but on their parents, who they trust with their whole heart.