I’ve realized I use the word “heart” a lot on this blog, at least once an entry. At first, I was thinking this was just more proof that I am made of cheese and schmaltz – not that I consider that a bad thing. In fact, I take a strange pride in the many things that can make me cry, from the Les Miserables movie finale (I sobbed out loud, probably embarrassing my friends) to the Bright Eyes song “First Day of My Life” (I once heard two different people sing it back to back in a talent show and I cried both times). But then I realized, you know who else uses “heart” a lot? The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, whom no one could accuse of being made of cheese and schmaltz.
To be fair, the Hebrew word we translate as “heart” had a somewhat different range of meaning than our English word. It wouldn’t fit neatly into “hearts and flowers” or “tenderhearted”; it’d be more at home in “the heart of the matter”: the pith, the crux, the unvarnished truth. In most Bible contexts, a person’s heart is his or her default state, the basic disposition from which thoughts and actions flow.
Psalm 51 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” This is basically Bible-speak for “I want a do-over, God.” And that’s how my first week of Lent has left me feeling. I’ve invited God into my life anew, and God has apparently taken this opportunity to shine a light on all the rank, dark, festering little corners I try to keep hidden. It’s like when that certain relative stays over, the one that always deep cleans your house while you’re gone, just trying to help, and all you can think all day at work is, “They’re probably opening that drawer right now. Please, please, don’t let them look in the closet. I hope all the dust bunnies under the bed spontaneously dissolved.”
Maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, in the last week, I have discovered that I have anything but a clean heart. It’s gunky and funky and tangled in all kinds of bad habits and distractions. My default state is to show up late for everything: work, church, sometimes even dates. My default state is not to read the news because it’s too much trouble and time. My default reaction to injustice is “How sad. I guess someone should do something about that sometime… or whatever.” My default reaction to someone else talking is to let my mind wander and occasionally say, “Mmm-hmm.” My default reaction to any kind of pain is to fill the hole with chocolate, Facebook likes, and words of human praise. My heart, despite my copious crying, seems to have slowly and sneakily petrified.
Now, upon realizing all this, my strong temptation is to go to the other extreme and jump into some ridiculous self-flagellation, like those monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who walk around hitting themselves in the forehead with boards: Kyrie eleison… *smack* Christe eleison… *smack* However, in my better moments I know this is just another way to avoid pain, like if I punish myself, the Universe will let me off the hook and I won’t have to suffer any other consequences. It’s just another way of growling defensively, “I don’t need to change. My heart is fine.”
How much harder to take a deep breath, look at the mess I keep making of things, and just say, “Help. Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
But I have concluded there really is no other way. I’m not inherently bad: I was created good, but I’m like an old out-of-tune piano or a broken-down car; I need a tune-up and some love. And the good news is that such love is out there if I’ll just humble myself and hold my dusty, busted heart up to be transformed and filled.
Please, God. Shake that Etch-a-Sketch. This time I mean it. Make me new.