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SPIRIT MATTERS: Life in the heart an infinite mystery

“The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There also is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.” ~ Saint Macarius, 4th century A.D.

As mysterious and unknowable as the heart of a human is, I have made exploring it my life’s purpose.

I remember as a child – and ever since, really – being fascinated by the common symbol of the heart. One year I asked my mom to make me a heart-shaped pillow for some occasion, I don’t remember what. It was all I wanted, to the point of obsession.

Mom came through with a nice, full, stuffed rainbow-colored heart.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of that pillow again, and wishing I knew what happened to it.

One of those things I regret not holding onto from my youth.

I think there is at least a photo of it somewhere to remind me that it once existed.

And yet, still I am obsessed with that little symbol. It is why I have decorated my Christmas tree with heart-shaped ornaments since early adulthood, and continue to add to that collection of ornaments every year.

It is why I have an ever-growing collection of hearts on my Pinterest account.

And, it is why I have developed a devotion over time to the Sacred Heart – the Heart of God that beats mysteriously throughout the universe. And mysteriously in each one of us.

Somehow, that symbolic figure speaks thousands of volumes to me about who I am, where I have been, and where I am going.

It is almost as if, before I was born, I was given this symbol by the Divine Artist, as a touchstone to look for during my life, to be reminded on some level beyond words why I am here, and where I should focus my energy.

Most regular readers of this column, and maybe some who remember articles I wrote as a reporter, will recognize that quality in my writing, that it aims to “come from the heart.”

At least that is what numerous readers, and some colleagues, have told me.

And, honestly, it is what I strive to do.

So, when I get blocked in writing, or life, for that matter, and feel stuck, feel as if I cannot go forward, I know it is time for me to return again to that mysterious heart space, where the Indwelling Spirit resides.

To keep this connection open takes practice.

Which is why I have answered the invitation to practice contemplative prayer, by doing my best to spend time each morning and each evening, and as much time as possible in between, simply sitting quietly, with my attention not in my mind, but in the center of my being.

It is as simple as it sounds.

And it is as hard as it sounds.

Because, once you make a commitment to spend time in quiet prayer in the heart, your “monkey mind,” as Buddhists term it, will kick into high gear, and do everything it can to distract you from simply resting in that oh-so-intimate space that exists between your unique soul and the Divine Intelligence that created it.

Unfortunately, for those of you who seek some kind of instant result on anything you put effort into, you will be sadly disappointed.

Living from the wisdom of the heart doesn’t work that way.

It takes time to develop this connection and to trust that what your heart wants to communicate is really beyond your ability to control, if you want it to be a genuine expression of who you are, and, God-willing, a genuine, if incomplete, expression of the Spirit that resides within.

It is why, even now, when I sit down to write, I have to remind myself, that if I want any part of what I say to be substantial, I have to get my ego out of the way, and trust that the Spirit that resides in my heart will speak what needs to be spoken.

Often easier said than done.

I have grown to trust that connection over time, though, even as I have fought that thorn in every scribe’s side, writer’s block – which, honestly – is only a factor when my attention has reverted from my heart space to my mind.

That silly monkey mind.

Because when I sit down at my keyboard, and consciously focus on my heart space, and begin writing, I am amazed over and over again at what develops from the center point between my heart, my quieted mind, and the Spirit behind it all.

This is why, I believe, when I truly allow myself to write from this heart space, guided by the Wisdom of the Spirit, the finished product resonates on so many levels with so many people.

Indeed, the human heart is a vast and unknowable mystery.

Whenever we try to cling to what we think we know about it, it disappears.

Such is a life lived from the heart.

Such is a life, lived in the Spirit.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.

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