Br. Raphael Forbing, OP offers a reflection on the role of “the heart” in the spiritual life, a concept which can be both familiar and elusive. As he writes in a post at Dominicana:
Our attachments to the people, things, and activities we love can cause us great pain and confusion when they’re taken away from us, or when they change in ways we weren’t expecting. We can be so easily and violently swept up into the objects of our desire, and if they don’t meet our expectations, we are often left bitterly disappointed, sad, or angry.
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the author, Qoheleth, gives rueful expression to his own disappointments. Proclaiming that “all is vanity and a chase after wind,” he recounts his search for pleasure and fulfillment. Ultimately, he concludes that mortal men can find no rest or satisfaction: “Every day sorrow and grief are their occupation; even at night their hearts are not at rest. This also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:23).
[...] But when we step back and look at the bigger picture, what emerges is the story of God’s love for His chosen people, Israel, for mankind, and for all of creation. It is an intense and powerful love story, with God endlessly pursuing His beloved bride, who will not stay faithful to Him. God constantly seeks to enter into the heart of His bride, to take up His abode there, and to live with her forever, even to the point of destroying her enemies and forgiving her for her countless infidelities.
Of course, while Pascal made brilliant use of the imagery of the heart, and a strand of Catholic devotional which cropped up in the nineteenth century brought it to prominence in church iconography and spawned new types of devotional societies, it can be a slippery subject. Our hearts, though in some ways the amalgamators of our intellect and desire, are also impossible to fully understand, and rely to a degree on memory, which is subject to further emendation by human pride and is mostly nonfalsifiable. It is for this reason, it seems, that Forbing opens with a quote from Jeremiah: “More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy.”
While he ultimately agrees that an authentic Christian life must include a transformation of the heart, it’s worth keeping these caveats in mind, especially in a culture that appears to agree with a superficial understanding of the centrality of the heart (see, for instance, the prevalence of emotivism in public discourse and our widespread reluctance to examine the worthiness of the objects of our affection). A genuinely-ordered heart, as Forbing points out, necessarily experiences agony, which also enables it to experience true love, even ecstasy.
Read his whole post here.