Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas week

The closing lines of Christina Rossetti’s poem (which I love to sing as carol) that  always come to the fore during this season – ever since I learnt it as a boy.  I am sure that I have prayed and sung these lines every Christmas since.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

But, of course, what giving ones heart mean?  Reading Hildebrand’s book (The Heart) over Advent has, I think, helped me answer that question.  What is ‘my heart’?  What does it mean to ‘give my heart’? Although idea of heart is central is the to the Judeo-Christian – and indeed other - religious traditions it is curious that the concept has not been examined in more philosophical depth.  A search through the KJV of the Bible  reveals, for example,  that ‘heart’ is referenced close on 900 times ! It is indeed a complex idea, but it has not been the subject of philosophical scrutiny.  Hence, Hilderbrand’s book is such an important contribution to our understanding.

 Hilderbrand argues that the heart is ‘our real self’.   It is within our ‘real self’ that we experience joy, sorrow, and  enthusiasm  - it is where we ‘feel’ and respond to the world ‘affectively’. However, of course, the heart tends to be seen in and portrayed sentimental terms: but the sense of ‘heart’ we encounter in scripture is not sentimental.  It is not a place for emotional self-indulgence.  We have to understand the heart as existing alongside the intellect and the will.  It is part of the ‘triad of spiritual centers  - intellect, will and heart – which are ordained to cooperate and to fecundate one another’ (p19) .  The heart is the very core of our affective being – just as the intellect is the core of our intellectual being. And Jesus uses this sense when he said that ‘where thy treasure is, there they heart also will be’ ( Mt 6: 21).   Thus : ‘ In this context ‘heart means the focal point of the affective sphere, that which is most crucially affected with respect to all else in that sphere.’  And in this sense , the heart may be understood as the ‘very centre of gravity of all affectivity’p(21) ++ . The heart is ‘where our the treasures of our life our stored’ and it is ‘in the heart that the secret of a person is to be found; it is here that the most intimate word is spoken’ (58) The heart is where all our joy , love and enthusiasm is located.

So if we reflect on ‘giving Jesus our heart’ and opening our heart so as to allow Christ to be born in us, we are saying something very profound. We are asking Jesus to become, as it were, our centre of gravity, and to become the treasure of our life.  In giving Jesus our heart  we are seeking to make Jesus our focal point - the centre of our life.  We are asking Jesus to speak to the most intimate part of ourselves. As we are reminded on the 27th December – the Feast day the ‘beloved apostle’, St. John, who listened to the heart of the Saviour and witnessed the pierced heart of Jesus flow with blood and water- Jesus, the Word of God made flesh gave His heart to us.   Christmas is a time when we, like the shepherds acknowledge our poverty and give our heart - ‘where our the treasures of our life our stored’- to Christ. And also like the wise men, bow low and give our intellects and will as well. When we give our heart we give all of ourselves - just as Jesus gave all of Himself. Christmas is a time for listening - like St John - to the intimate sound of the Heart of Christ.


++ I think the icon of the Sacred Heart captures this sense of the heart of Jesus as a 'centre of gravity' and 'focal point'  - the heart of Jesus as the centre of our centre very nicely.

No comments:

Post a Comment