The Eyes of Your Heart

“…so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” —Ephesians 1:18,19

Once we understand there are many ways to enlighten our hearts, the horizon of possibilities before us widens. This is especially true when we seek beauty and truth — distinguishable and thus equally indispensable. When we find these sources, whether they be bathed in the center of God’s glory or reflecting God’s light from their centrifugal swings around the Son, they open to us new channels for perception.

Poetry penetrates deep to the heart, but indirectly. If you’re willing to look you can find the poets who somehow hear the music that beats in your bloodstream and when you read them, you understand yourself in ways you couldn’t have arrived at on your own. “When you encounter this splash of words,” writes priest and poet Mark Oakley, “you understand that ultimately poetry is not about factual information but human formation. Like water, language goes stagnant if it doesn’t move.”

When I first read Rainer Maria Rilke, this poet of the great silences, the man who was christened with a girl’s name for the sister who was lost, it was as if he had read my heart’s way and was speaking my longings in words that were almost holy. When I began with his Sonnets to Orpheus, I could only manage a page or two and then I’d have to put it aside and do something else for awhile, something that didn’t lay me open to the bone. If we can bear it, this is an opening to wonder and mystery.

Or maybe it’s music — Faure’s Requiem, or Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, or U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For or the tears that flow from Eric Clapton’s guitar through While My Guitar Gently Weeps during the “Concert for George.” That’s what Carlos Santana calls “Holy Ghost music,” something that happens between musicians and audience that goes beyond artistry and technique to a communion of fire and spirit.

These moments, these strands of bright beauty, are all around us, and if we choose, we can weave them together in our memories for a coat of many colors to wear on our dull and darker days. Their beauty, though ephemeral, is real in the moment: we can see them and feel them as they pass through us. But their greater power is that they remind us of something we’ve known and lost or once had but did not fully appreciate. They are signs of the ineffable, signals received from a source whose coordinates seem strangely familiar. As such, they give us practice in the exercise of faith.

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“It is within man’s power to seek Him,” writes Rabbi Abraham Heschel in God in Search of Man, “it is not within his power to find Him. All Abraham had was wonder, and all he could achieve on his own was readiness to perceive. The answer was disclosed to him; it was not found by him.”

Heschel turns to Maimonides, who did not offer proof for the existence of God but said that the source of our knowledge of God is the “inner heart,” the medieval name for intuition. We don’t apprehend God through a syllogism, but through an insight, a spiritual discernment.

It’s not that reason can’t play a role in spiritual things; reasoning often brings us into the neighborhood of faith and removes barriers to our willingness to listen. It provides a way to organize our categories: faith, evidence, rationality, miracles, finitude and infinity, eternity and time-boundedness, perfection and inexactitude, the sacred and the mundane. It helps us bracket our prejudices and recognize our standpoint. And it can reveal our inconsistencies and lapses in judgment. This is the stuff of the philosophy of religion, all of it intriguing, fascinating, compelling. But it can also keep God at a distance, an object to be argued about, not a Being who enthralls us. For that we need the eyes of the heart. “Faith terminates not in a statement, not in a formula of words, but in God,” writes Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation.

Heschel continues: “But the initiative, we believe, is with man. The great insight is not given unless we are ready to receive.” Faith commences, God completes.

So here now is Paul, writing to his friends in Ephesus, rejoicing with them that their sins are forgiven, that God has chosen them to be filled with love, and that when the right time arrives the whole universe — heaven touching earth — will be brought into joyful harmony in Christ. That time is now, Paul insists. The “eyes of your heart” will perceive it through faith.

Here is the audaciousness which characterizes the apostolic community and which still — perhaps even more now — takes our breath away. In the midst of wearying journeys, dissensions and disputes, divisions which cut to the heart of who Paul and his friends thought they were because of Christ, he gathers up the threads of their faith in action and promises that this is indeed the first light of the new day of God’s kingdom.

Two millennia later this promise almost seems like mockery. Far from being a community without divisions, the Church seems to model the political world with all its coercion, bad faith, and posturing. We see the same underhandedness and false hope in the Church that plays out in a daily live-stream from any number of our politicians and corporate leaders. The Church as a body sometimes does not even reach the standard of respect and equality for people that our society continues to struggle toward. We Christians have a lot to answer for. Are we wandering in the wilderness?

Paul’s message to Jew and Gentile was that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. What had been promised for centuries, though covenants made were broken and straight places fell into crookedness, had now in the fullness of time come to pass. Quite beyond any power they might have exercised to move the cosmic forces into alignment, the promise was made good in spite of their weakness. Nothing they did could bring it into being nor could they prevent what God had planned from the foundation of the world. It was a gift open to all who could see it, a world reborn.

Paul has heard of the faith of these Ephesians and their “love toward all the saints,” and he prays that God may give them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation.” To his friends at Ephesus — and to us — he says, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens…of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

To Paul, every little community of believers that formed was the household of God, a wavering light that would bloom brighter as their faith was seen in action.

The question was whether they could see this potential for themselves, if the bonds of friendship and community they had begun could strengthen and flourish. Could they perceive God in the whirl and flux of this world? The eyes of their hearts would see the hope to which God had called them, the richness of belonging to this great cloud of witnesses, and the greatness of God’s power to sustain them.

Faith commences, God completes. Believing is seeing.

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. Email him at darmokjilad@gmail.com.

Image: Shalom Mwenesi / Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9454
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Robert Browning wrote —-“Our Times are in His hands who said, a whole I planned, see all and be not afraid”

There are no dreams in the sleep of death. Paul and I will awake as if no time had past.

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Thanks Barry. Your touching on the dimension of heart experience opens the door to a realm of ‘being’ that is all too frequently unnoticed within our predominantly intellectual conception and perception of both scripture and Christian experience.

Bible writers frequently referred to the “heart” - a metaphorical term for the ‘place/space’ within us where our deepest desires and consequential motives originate and reside. This is why Solomon poetically wrote “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do (and are) flows from it” (Prov 4:23). And Jesus repeatedly reinforced this notion in verses such as Matthew 12:35 and 15:19.

It appears that it is what is in our heart that determines whether we will be restored and saved or whether we will perish. Note the reason diagnostically outlined in Gen 6:5 why the majority of the earth perished in the flood rather than embrace the opportunity for salvation that was being offered. This is exactly the same phenomena that has and will continue throughout history until the demise of this earth.

When one can appreciate the significance of the heart as that which fundamentally influences all aspects of living, it is not surprising that while man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7). David too understood this, which is why when he sinned big time with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he submissively and repentantly asked that his heart be renewed.

The bottom line is that we each will have one of two hearts. A heart like Jesus that is based upon the principle of self-renouncing, Agape love (John 15:13, Luke 9:23) or a heart that like Satan is hardened/set into the principle of self-seeking and self-indulging.

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There appears to be a couple differing relationships to the “gospel”; and what those relationships look like. I think the more common one has the story of Christ and his teachings as a basic principle for life. This is, of course, a good thing; but, it doesn’t go very deep. The Bible principles sit on the same level as laws and precepts that any organization or government would have, requiring its citizens and members to abide by a set of laws and/or principles. It directs our social behaviour.

The other relationship requires (includes), what we may call “heart” (itself an ambiguous factor), and differs in that it can’t be produces by will - it’s just there; and is, in fact, diminished by the conscious act of adhering to a set of determined principles. It comes like the wind, Jesus said.

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Thanks for the enlightening commentary in Ephesians 1:18,19. A very favorite of mine too. I believe that intellectual seeing is one thing but seeing with the heart is Holy Spirit inspired where one embraces with emotion and Love the divine revelation of what God’s purpose for us, in Jesus, really is. In John 9 Jesus confronts the religious leaders who say they see, but it is only an intellectual seeing about Messiah but they are blind to the power of and love for Jesus. ( see context) The “blind from birth” man saw Jesus with the eyes of his heart. On the other hand in Jn9:39 Jesus says He came so that the blind will see and those who see might become blind; the eyes of the heart are closed, What a pity as it can happen even today.

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You are speaking my language. Especially when you say, “their greater power is that they remind us of something we’ve known and lost or once had but did not fully appreciate.” Though I still seek for the sense of awe and wonder that was an essential part of my younger years, I realize now, in my 80s, how much of that has been lost, alas!

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