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Heart Conditions

Like a door, a window, a gate, a book, a milk carton, a bank account, a faucet, and a mind, a heart may be open or closed. People with open hearts are fairly easy to spot. They exude warmth. They express gratitude. They exhale wonder. And they hurt a lot. Sometimes it is because they have been hurt. Most of the time it is because they see and feel hurt in others.

Marcus Borg was a professor at Oregon State University and a prolific author. In his book The Heart of Christianity, he describes in detail the two heart conditions we humans live with. Open or closed. In this examination, "heart," of course, isn't just about love. It's also what drives what we do, how we do it, and who we become. Borg says simply it is "the self at its deepest level." In exploring the closed heart, he mentions the Greek word sklerokardia which is translated literally "sclerosis of the heart." Hard-hearted we might say. Such a heart lacks compassion, doesn't care about justice, can't see clearly, renders a mind "darkened" ("we believe our own deceptions"), and is "insensitive to wonder and awe" according to Borg. "The world looks ordinary when our hearts are closed." Borg recognizes these two heart conditions are not absolute. There are degrees of hard-heartedness. And there is often some fluctuation between openness and closedness. Yet Borg invites us to honestly reflect on our primary stance in life because the two conditions describe ways of being as we walk this good earth.

Perhaps it shows up most clearly in our view of others of our kind. Are people generally problems that perplex us or are they potential treasures to explore and over which to marvel? Are we quick to find faults in others or patiently gracious of others' humanity? Do we view people as obstacles to our happiness and success or as contributors to our enrichment and wellbeing? Do we tolerate one another or celebrate one another? As Borg asserts, "The condition of the heart matters." Clusters or communities of closed-hearted people make for a chilly existence. To use his words, "The mild form of violence is judgmentalism; of brutality, insensitivity; of arrogance, self-centeredness; of rapacious greed, ordinary self-interest."

There's a well-known painting of a well-known biblical text from Isaiah 11. The artist, Edward Hicks, was a Quaker minister. His rendering of "The Peaceable Kingdom" became an American favorite. Hicks, however, didn't paint just one idyllic scene of lions and lambs resting together without fear. At least sixty-two versions exist. As Hicks experienced more and more of life among others of his kind and especially within his religious community, the animals by nature more predatory became more and more ferocious in his paintings. Is there a shred of possibility for peaceful existence if hearts remain closed and hard? Indeed, our heart conditions do matter.

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