Friday, April 29, 2005

Hearts and Minds

In our Study of John the question comes up about which approach to the gospel is most vital. That is a very complex question and deserves to be explored thoroughly. Hopefully this post may initiate such an exploration.

When this subject comes up I immediately hark back to the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37). Note that the commandment mentions the heart first, then the soul, then the mind. Analytically we might assume that all three are given equal weight.

But meditating on the comandment it strikes me that the heart comes first because it may be a prerequisite to the others.

(We may neglect the soul here partly because it is unclear to many of us. Websters's suggests the immortal and spiritual part of a person. It certainly deserves another discussion.)

Carl Jung named two of his four functions: thinking and feeling. It seems to divide people, simplistically of course, into the thinkers and feelers.

Several years ago I spent a year in close proximity with Byron, a fellow minister and a man who seemed to me emphatically a feeler. It seemed that he felt everything more deeply than I did (and I had always thought that I felt deeply-(funny).

It does seem clear that some of us lean in one way or the other; God gives us various and diverse gifts.

Looking at myself and trying to make myself transparent to you, dear reader, I feel that feeling is paramount in my nature, but perhaps also quite close to thinking.

Re my spiritual path: I entered the kingdom through the overwhelming feeling of God's love. I wanted to express my gratitude any way I could. Focusing on the lessons and commandments of Jesus I came up with the Great Commandment (and also with his Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31ff).

When the Gulf War came along I made a comment to a friend that "the only thing that can save us is a spiritual revolution". He said, "No, a mental one!". I've often thought about that conversation: how does it relate to this discussion of 'heart and mind'?

It seems to me that the people of our culture have wonderful hearts, but pigmy minds; the best of us may use 2% of the brains God gave us. To act entirely on my heart I might choose crucifixion as the Lord did. But, coward that I am, I can at least try to improve my mind and that of those I impact.

How do you feel?


Al said...

The relationship of Heart and Mind - I would imagine volumes have been written. I have heard it said that the two "wings" of Buddhism are Wisdom and Compassion - a clear reference to Heart and Mind.
In the Dhammapada we read:
"Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states...If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, suffering follows one.
Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states...If one speaks or acts with pure mind, affection follows one."
But then two lines later:
"Hate is not overcome by hate; by Love (Metta) alone is hate appeased. This is an eternal law."

So is it cultivating proper thoughts or a loving heart?

"God gives us various and diverse gifts"
My current thinking is that we skillfuly apply different methods based on the conditions that present themselves. Sometimes head, sometimes heart, if there is even a separation at may just depend on the angle that you are looking at it.

Meredith said...

Great post, Larry, with a wonderful commentary by Al. I feel so much gratitude for all the points of view expressed here.

Re: my suggestion to move toward heart in the scripture study -

I obviously am also primarily a 'feeler.' Though I really value intellect, mind, thinking - it is obviously very useful, very utilitarian. However, in my experience, and to quote the Little Prince, "it is only with the heart that one sees clearly." And this seems especially true spiritually. My heart has brought me closer to God than my poor old intellect could have ever even thought of doing! Intellectually understanding the gospel does not, has not brought me one step closer to feeling that of God, whereas contemplating, deeply feeling the essence of Jesus (and others) resonate in my heart - that is when I begin develop a kind of knowing that brings me unexplicably to tears, filling me with love and compassion. Perhaps it is a bit like listening between the words for the Silence spaces, in which God is ever-present.

Larry said...

I appreciate very much the comments of friends Al and Meredith. I noted that love played a big part in both of them.

Maybe it's in love that mind and heart come together. For many years I've lifted up love in my thoughts and conversation and reflected upon it in my thoughts.

I've come to feel quite strongly that love is more a matter of action than of feeling.

The other day I visited a poor man and his wife in a hospital room. They were on the point of going home, but he was in obvious physical distress. I prayed with them, asked God for healing and for relief from his pain, and walked out of the room in tears.

My face was obviously drawn with his pain when I encountered his nurse. "I can't stand to see people in pain", I said. She kindly explained to me something about his circumstances.

I understood all too well that she had much more love for the poor man than I did. I had given him a moment of my time, but she worked for him for at least 8 hours.

I left there fully aware that love is much more a matter of activity than of feeling.

david said...

I have heard/read someplace -- taht is biblical times "heart" did not refer to feelings as it does in our culture -- rather it refers to that place where we make our basic choices in life -- so relates more to what moderns would say "guts".

If that is so -- and I don't know if it is -- then heart and soul in the passage you cited are pretty much the same thing and so "mind" is the odd man out so to speak.

It is important to me that "soul" refers not to some metaphysical or spiritual part of us but to the whole of us -- including our physicality.

Larry said...

Right, Kwak. I understood that the seat of feeling, love, etc. was the belly:
"Out of his belly shall flow streams of living water." I really like that KJ translation.