We spoke last week of the notion of home as a place, chiefly within the heart or sacred core of ourselves, where there is a sense of safety, belonging, and outreach. It is also that same place in the
heart or core of those who have entered our heart or whose heart we have entered. Beyond survival and safety, it suggests as well a fulness of life informed by love.
There is an expression that says home is where the heart is. I think that perhaps the opposite is true, that heart is where the home is. The word heart in Latin is cor and in Greek is kardia. As the English equivalent core suggests, the heart refers not just to the physical organ, but to the centre, the foundation of a person. Theologian Karl Rahner speaks of heart as the deepest unifying centre of the person, from which everything in the person at once flows and into which it is gathered.
It is interesting that the word creed, which has come to mean commonly a set of beliefs, actually comes from the Latin words cor and do, heart and give. Its original sense is what we give our heart to, what we give our whole self to from our inmost centre.
This core or centre would be our true home, and to be in touch with and live from that centre is to be at home to ourselves, and therefore able to be at home to others. If we are not at home to ourselves, if we are away from our own heart or centre, out of touch with this sacred self, we cannot invite another there, we cannot be at home to another.
I have sometimes said that around this sacred core, this central point of worth, there is perhaps a wall of hurt, then a wall of fear, then a wall of hostility. We all have experience of hurt and fear and hostility, both received and given. But to live a life based on hurt of fear or hostility is, in the perspective, to be homeless. It is in effect to be lost. It is to be imprisoned by these walls.
It seems that there are perhaps three key fears: the fear of being hurt, the fear of making a mistake, and the fear of rejection. In its widest and most comprehensive sense, the fear of being hurt springs from a recognition that we are vulnerable, that we can be wounded, and that we are mortal. It is ultimately the fear of death. The fear of making a mistake may also broaden into a fear that our whole life may become a mistake. And so, it reflects a fear of meaninglessness, a fear that our life has no real purpose or direction, that it has no meaning. Finally, the fear of rejection likewise broadens into a fear that our life will be unshared, that we will find no place in the heart of another.
These of course are the negative aspects. Expressed in a more positive way, they reflect a deep longing that we may come to recognize is not in vain. We may achieve this hopeful realization especially through times of solitude, of friendship, and of social involvement. These are occasions when we are truly present, truly at home, to ourselves, to one another, and to the world in which we live out our lives. These are situations also in which we learn to trust: to trust the unfolding process of life within ourselves, to trust the truthfulness of the caring of those closest to us, and to trust the efforts we make on behalf of our world.
Some of these things I learned from my younger brother, Mike, who was born as what was then called a “blue baby.” He was born with certain physical heart defects, but none in the sense of his inner heart or core. I had the profound experience that his short life of 26 years was valuable for himself and for those who knew him. It was valuable not simply for anything he did but essentially for who he was, for his presence.
Spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen quotes from a a story by Chaim Potok, in which the father says to his young son that life is all the more precious because it is not forever. The value of a life does not depend on its length. Every life also contains a number of mistakes, but no life is a mistake, and every life has a meaning. Out of his concentration camp experience, Viktor Frankl asserts forcefully: “If there is meaning it is unconditional meaning, and neither suffering nor dying can detract from it. And what people need is unconditional faith in unconditional meaning.”
In a similar way we have said that we are more than the worst thing we have done and more the worst thing that has been done to us. Our sacred worth is deeper than all wrong, all mistakes. We may violate that worth in self or others but we cannot destroy it. It remains deeper than all else and impels toward forgiveness and healing. But these require time and caring.
In a similar vein, the urge to share our lives in some way remains deeper than any relationships that are lost by death, or broken by separation, betrayal, or just growing apart. There is also an increasing recognition that we are part of the natural world, creatures of earth, to which we belong. Even our breathing is not a private activity but a relationship with the earth, which is also our home. The poet Baudelaire has written that all through life we walk through forests of living things that extend wisdom and caring upon us.
We certainly do experience fear and hurt and hostility, and these do push us to self-rejection and to inflicting hurt on others. The challenge, with the help of one another, is to recognize the sacred worth, the true self, beneath these painful walls. As I like to put it, we should never speak to ourselves other than as we would speak, on our best day, to a small child who is hurt or angry.
May you come to recognize ever more fully that you are more than your hurt, or fear or hostility. And may you uncover and live from a sacred self that is deeper than all imprisoning walls, and find a joy and peace and love that is deeper than all sorrow.
Norman King, March 14, 2022