Yesterday, I wrote a mild diatribe at my uncertainty over God’s gender. I’ve written about this elsewhere in the past. This morning I worried I had said too much about something I really can’t understand. Well, that would probably mean I’m always guilty of that, whenever I open my mouth to speak at all. One can only worry so much that they’ve done a bad thing rather than the good thing they were hoping to have done.
Many mornings, I go for a walk in my neighbourhood. My favourite, mildly challenging route takes me down the road, up a hill into a neighbouring hilltop suburb, then down the other side and eventually to the local coffee shop. This coffee shop is about 10 minutes walk from here, but I like to take 30 to get there, by putting a hill in the way. It gives me more time to think, and lets my body burn a calorie or three.
The very top of the hill – that part where I’m done with most of the climbing, and am now on my way mostly back down again – is the apex where I feel closest to whatever it is I’m praying to on that journey. It’s become symbolic to me, and so it’s an important part of my routine.
Yesterday, as I crested the hill, I felt connected to something – perhaps just a permission to dream big, on behalf of those in my life who might benefit, if not for my own self. I don’t know if it’s hubris to imagine your own self as potentially important in the lives of others… and that is probably a problem of mine I should consider addressing. Of course people matter to each other, and I am people too. I deserve my dreams, but more importantly, so do they. It brought me to tears, at the top of that small hill: It was the feminine face of God that told me there that it was really, really ok to dream that way, and to dream big. I came home and wrote a blog post about it. There you go.
This morning, as I crested the hill, I asked myself (or was asked) what was important to my heart. I was now thinking about my heart as a separate thing – and not just the same thing that did my dreaming – because of something I read last night, in A Year With C.S. Lewis. It is an anthology of clippings from his various books.
The passage in question – the one that got me to thinking about my heart, rather than my dreams, was the one for Sept 28, called Fantasy Virtues. It is from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (which I haven’t read completely, only passages from A Year With…).
The character Screwtape, being a devil, considers God to be the Enemy, and is concerned with the corruption and downfall of a human subject (the patient), and here, describes this human as a series of concentric circles:
“…his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the Will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his Will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart).”C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
This got me thinking differently, so my morning prayer-walk involved asking this: where do my dreams come from, if not my heart, and are they alone able to make me a good person? What if my best dreams and inspirations are simply a God or Goddess giving me the gift of sound advice? This is often how dreams and inspirations seem to be. Is it my own good quality to have something else inspire me toward better things?
The word inspiration is about receiving something from some other source, more than it is about producing that thing oneself; inspiration is not exactly a product to which the inspired can lay claim for having created. My dreams, in other words, are not where my true virtue rests, though they form a good map, when at their best.
Likewise, to recognize, assess, comprehend, agree with, prioritize, choose, and even announce my dreams aloud – those things which the intellect does – are only first steps. I can only consider myself blessed to be able to consider dreams and inspirations in the context of this life: what they might mean for those around me, how they might come about, which ones are most worth pursuing, given current circumstances… the planning and contemplation phase. Undeniably important, and, as far as I can tell, within myself to choose to think, or to not think.
But inward thought is only the beginning of outward action, and so my true virtue only begins there, but is not yet fully realized into the world – it may in fact be in even greater peril of never coming to fruition, having taken real time and energy to almost-manifest-but-not-quite-yet. A trophy for the Screwtapes of the world to prize – and a threat to them as well, should they become a matter of my will.
All the good thinking in the world does not resolve something good into being, except in one’s own imagination. If thinking and even deciding good things was all that was needed to be a good person, we would only need to be brains, without hands, feet, and mouths (the tools of change we have been given to actually do things while here). Even blogging about what I dream for this world is only manifesting something good up to a point, though it is certainly better than keeping thoughts and ideals entirely to myself.
Of course, many people “only” write, but do it well, and with great heart, conviction, and purpose, that this is more than enough to manifest something worthwhile of their own best selves. Recall that not everybody has full use of all of their parts at all times, and so the parts we do have use of are where our true worth can always be found.
So what is my heart, then, according to Screwtape, according to C.S. Lewis (and according to whatever inspired him to write those words)? My heart and will are the engine, I think, that brings dreams and inspirations into fruition, in the best way I can manage. It is about effort, and intention, and sticking with something good to a proper completion, even when new inspirations (and their resulting patterns in my over-thinking noggin) pop up and demand that I drop the good things I’m doing, in order to stare at these shiny, novel notions.
My heart needs to be engaged. A heart is never at rest – it beats until it doesn’t want to anymore. The body (its servant and extension), must do things too. Real things. This is where I become the good person I am here to be. The virtues feared by Screwtape must find their way to the centre of who I am – these, formed into daily habits of the heart and its extended body, are the essence of walking well in the world as a verifiably, demonstrably good person. I think this is why Jesus walked around so damn much. He was never long at rest – his heart was too busy manifesting good things all over the place. He knew he had to move – not just pray and ponder, not just always preach from the same mount.
That is my belief today, in any case. Who knows what I may be led to believe tomorrow?
So today’s hilltop visit posed to me this question: what does your heart want? What does your will want? What does it mean for your will and your heart to want something, anyway? Your dreams and your thoughts are what they are: you can dream a great dream, and then recognize its value. Your dreams are given you – or perhaps invoked – and your thoughts are formulated… but things wanted in both these places are abstractly so. This is fantasy and thought just doing their bit. But the heart and the will and the body (hands, fingers, feet, tongue… whatever you have that you’re able to make change with) want by doing, not by receiving, or thinking. That is how the heart wants, I think. It needs that spark, it needs a spark to make it go somewhere. It always goes where its spark leads it.
How do you spark your heart in an intentional way, tangibly toward a dream you are given to acknowledge and love, in your mind’s eye? Your heart is here, in the world – if it is to want something, it must bring that thing to itself, here.
I think that takes a kind of practice. I am still unsure what kind – but probably just regular practice of the day-by-day kind. All I know is that my heart wanted to write about this, and share it somehow, in case it might matter. And so my feet brought me back home, my hands opened this laptop, and my mind and fingers then formed and shared these words, to you. My heart got what it wanted. Had it not wanted to do these things, we’d not be here together right now.
As I ascended the hill this morning – before the question about my heart’s desire (and exactly how a heart manages to effectively desire) – I thought about how this physical world is where the “rubber meets the road”. My walk up the hill confirmed this: I wore rubber on my feet, and I was walking the road – not just dreaming of it, or thinking about it, or telling somebody I was going to go for a walk one day. I was walking, which was what my heart had decided to do with the early part of its day. I chose to spark it that way. I wanted it to be, and then wanted it into being so.
There are places I’m sure where dreams alone come from – and maybe where they exist as a primary reality, unbound by time and space and gravity and all the mess that is here. The mind, somewhere between Here and There, then seems to be where thoughts live, and then plans, and also memories… all symbols for trying to make sense of what it is we dream about and are inspired by while here.
The world of matter though is where we are given a chance to turn some of those things into solid manifestations – though for what reason, I can’t say. It feels like school here; we have ideas and assignments and the freedom to choose to read them over, and then do them and hand them in, or not. Our call, our way.
That is, I think, the homework of the heart.