Listenings: Formation of the Heart

In order to live into a spiritual formation that represents “the way of the heart,” we must understand what we mean by heart.

For Nouwen, the heart is defined biblically as “the place where body, soul, and spirit come together as one” (p. xvii).  It is not a word of sentimentality, but more nearly a word of strength and stability.  It is what Merton and others called “the convergence point”—what we might call the “core” of a person’s being—a place where everything is congruent and as it should be.

Most of us will read things like this and ask, “Where in the world is that place?”  We may even doubt that there is, or even can be, such a place.  At the very least, we live in ways that make us strangers to that place.  Nouwen is not unware of this reaction, but Reality in the spiritual life is not contingent upon our awareness of it.  Living from the heart is a lifelong process, not a six-step program.  It is a journey of increasing discovery.

The heart is the source—“the central unifying organ of our personal life.”  It is the reference point, by which all of life is understood, ordered, and lived.  It is where God dwells and where Satan attacks (p. xvii).  It is a place that must be guarded by the Holy Spirit and by our own attentiveness and care.

Nouwen describes it this way, “Thus to live the spiritual life and to let God’s presence fill us takes constant prayer, and to move from our illusions and isolation back to that place in the heart where God continues to form us in the likeness of Christ takes time and attention” (p. xvii).

This is probably why the metaphor of “home” became so important for Nouwen as the years went by.  He saw his own longing for home as one expression of a universal desire.  And as he wrote about the presence of the heart, he was saying (in so many words), “We all have a home.  Let’s head for it.”


About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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