If there is anything about our life that captures my attention (indeed some days I think of little else), it is the heart. There is a clear sense in the writings of the Fathers of what is meant by the heart and Scripture has much to say as well.
Christ said about the heart: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matt. 12:35).
This is not the “California” version of the heart as in phrases such as “you have to follow your heart.” Christ is not engaging in sentimentality but directing us to the very core of our being. There in the heart of ourselves we create our treasure. The treasure is either good or evil. I believe we are always at every moment doing something that “creates” the treasure of the heart. We store up anger or kindness, meekness or condemnation. All that we do flows from the heart in one manner or another.
What occupies my attention is the question (to myself): “What are you doing with your heart?”
Sometimes the question takes a different form (and this is not always to myself): “Why are you doing that with your heart?”
Our strangely contorted culture only knows that the heart “sells.” Generally the purveyors of culture care little about the treasures they sell. Anger will get as many rating numbers (sometimes more) than joy.
I watch traffic on my blog. I note that a little controversy can almost double the “views” on any given day. I resist the temptation (as I can). The world has enough controversy without me adding to it.
It is clear that our hearts are broken in places, and are hard in others. A lot of the “treasure” in our heart was not put there by ourselves, but was “sown by an enemy.” But knowing that only means I am the more responsible with what I do with it.
The verse from Psalm 51(50): “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” should be a constant refrain in our day. At some points the prayer has to increase to the level of desperation: “Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me!”
Can we change our own hearts? I do not think it is possible – were we able to be masters of our heart we would need no Savior. We can never say of something, “That is simply how my heart is!” For Scripture warns us as well that the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jer. 17:9)?
I am certain that the heart only changes by the grace of God. We cannot make ourselves into the image of God – only God can do that in us. Which leaves us again with prayer – praying from my heart – praying with my heart – praying for my heart – even in spite of my heart. Lord, have mercy!
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20).
What a great reminder to pray for my heart. That is what I need to be praying for right now, because the heart is where we meet God and where our treasure is stored. It is important for one to examine his/her heart. You are right to say a lot of what is in the heart is sown by the enemy–such as hurt, anger, etc. But we are still responsible for our hearts. I think a lot about whether what is in my heart has been placed there by God, or by the enemy, or just there naturally, having been shaped by my life circumstances such as the ways I’ve been hurt or wronged by others and the ways I’ve wronged them in return. I don’t want to fall into the danger of thinking that what is in my heart is just “inevitable”. Rather I must pray for my heart, that God would enter it and cleanse it, because, as you said, I cannot change my own heart. Thanks for such a great emphasis.
I meant to include I love that picture of Jesus knocking on the door, and in fact, I have that same picture on a wooden plaque in my room. I wonder if there are any icons that depict Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts. I haven’t seen one, but I’m curious whether one exists.
There was a time in my life when I was pretty much heartless. I was so filled with myself and my rage that I did not have a heart for others. Without meaning to, I had become so self-centered that I only cared for me, everyomne else exixted only for my manipulations. Through a long process of conscious change, prayer and making amends I slowly came to the point where others mattered to me more than myself. I can only attribute this change to God coming to me when I called out to him in my despair. Having a heart made me a different person. I realize now just how cold hearted I had become. Praise God for loving such a sinner.
I still do not understand the HOW of praying with the heart. I’ve read Metr Anthony’s book–I enjoyed it if that’s appropriate to say–but for some reason my dense and insensitive mind still has not understood precisely the mechanics of moving toward prayer of the heart.
I’ve read many beautiful discourses on how wonderful and necessary praying with the heart and constant is; I suppose the closest I’ve come to one which “worked” on my obtuse intellect was Way of a Pilgrim, but even there I have failed to grasp it. Is there any help out there for such a spiritual remedial as I?
correction, the above should read: “…necessary praying with the heart *constantly* is;”
To pray with the heart constantly is a gift of Grace, we cannot make it happen by our efforts. The closest we can come to begin with is to pray with “attention” (not on the heart but on God). That is a tremendous struggle in and of itself, but is as good a place as any to start. Sorry if that is less than asked for – but I do not think there is much else to be done. Pray with attention (to God) and avoid delusion (do not imagine God but direct your heart to Him).
Is it safe to imagine Jesus Christ in an icon, or something like that? Or a scene from the Gospels?
I just read the same book and it seems almost like an act of hari kari performed on oneself. Or rather, performed on one’s Self (the selfish, inconsiderate part of myself).
Recently I asked myself just what negative emotion I was feeling. Is it resentment, fear, or regret? In this instance I was feeling fear.
Metr. Anthony speaks of finding a name for God. Since I was feeling fear, I tried to find out what God would have me be. The opposite of fear is hope (or so I’ve surmised). So I just began to pray, “My Hope, My Hope, My Hope.”
A large part of it is getting to the point where you know what you’re feeling. If you’re in despair, it’s somewhat easy. If you’re not in absolute despair, it is more difficult, and it may be harder to find the honesty required for the kind of directed prayer Metr. Anthony speaks of.
It turns out that in the process of examining my fear I discovered (after it had passed) that there was an element of resentment (towards God) that I was unable to see until afterwards.
Forgive me for even speaking like I know what I’m doing. I am a lost man. I hope the above is helpful and can be useful to you.
Just for clarity, it’s God that does any healing. All I can do is aim the arrow at the dark part of my heart. He must guide it by His strength.
William Holman Hunt’s painting of that same verse has fascinated me for years – perhaps because of the hardened darkness of my own heart, which Walter Sallman’s painting doesn’t quite capture. See
Pray for me, a sinner.
To really move in the direction of praying with the heart cannot be done by oneself. It must be done in obedience to a spiritual father or spiritual director. There are too many pitfalls and obstacles that will arise where one needs an experienced guide and confessor.
Indeed. Sometimes we have almost “too much information” (the Way of the Pilgrim is beautiful but can make it seem as though the entire issue of Prayer of the Heart is more technique than grace). People forget that the Pilgrim has a great spiritual father.
If we are without such guides (there are very few and there are many more who are willing to be guides who should not be) we can still pray. But we approach pray with much humility. It’s probably dangerous to approach prayer in any other way under any circumstance.
I am looking for 18 new books of “PRAY WITH THE HEART! Medugorje Manual of Prayer. Please can you help me locate these? Do you have any or know of any place that I can purchase these? Thank you so much.