• Brian E Pearson

Both Head and Heart

The head and the heart suffer a strained relationship. They’re like siblings who are close in age but very different in personality. They want different things. The head wants clarity; the heart wants love. The head, transcendence; the heart, engagement. The head, ideals; the heart, realities. The New Dispensation requires that head and heart learn to live together.


The north window of the Cathedral of Chartres, France.

In the late centuries of the church's first millennium a fierce battle raged between head and heart. It had to do with the use of images in the church. Proponents of the heart argued on behalf of the power of images to evoke contemplation, prayer and devotion. The others wanted to control that power, making images serve doctrine, permitting only those images that specifically referenced official Christian belief.


By the 10th century the head had won that battle. That's why, in churches from the Middle Ages to the present, stained glass has been largely representational, depicting biblical scenes and not getting carried away with other evocative possibilities.


Since then, when the heart has risen up to speak its truth, the head has put it back in its place. When the heart cried, "Free the slaves," the head said, "But slavery is in the Bible." When the heart said, "Women should be ordained," the head said, "Jesus and his followers were all men." When the heart pleaded for recognition of diversity in sexual orientation, the head said, "Male and female God made them," quoting scripture.


But some would say that thinking is only ever a secondary activity, "faith in search of understanding," as Anselm put it. Theology, for instance, is our attempt to put words to our experience of God. First came the experience itself--of the earthly Jesus; of his Spirit, indwelling his followers after his death; of God's grace working powerfully through the faithful. First we felt God's presence; then we gave it some thought.


This should give us pause before we set understanding above experience, the head above the heart. We are uniquely gifted within the creaturely realm to apply reason to our experience, to reflect on it, understand it, even anticipate it. But the moment we give the head power over the heart, elevating our thoughts above our feelings, we have succumbed to the temptation of all religions: to control the gods by our cleverness.


The head must interpret the feelings of the heart. But the heart must guide the thoughts of the head. In the New Dispensation both will find a home together. As Equals.


Next week: What about Jesus?

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