Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
In this gospel reading Jesus reminds us that it is not what we put into our bodies that causes us to sin. Now we alcoholics and addicts know well that Jesus is not talking about physical food or drink because that is certainly what finally got us into trouble. Jesus is referring to spiritual and intellectual food that we take in. It is what happens to the words, thoughts, actions that we hear and see and allow to penetrate our body and reach our heart, and then how our heart reacts to them can cause us to sin, to develop character defects. Someone harms us. We want to hurt them right back. Someone does not treat us with the respect due. We make sure they are put in their place. Our children act out. We throw up our hands and scream at them.
Ours is a God of love and I love all the ways scripture and sacred writings give us images to pray and meditate on about changing our heart. The collect for this passage from Mark talks about “Graft in our hearts the love of your Name.” Some of you master gardeners know more about grafting than I do, but I hope you can identify with the personification of the word heart. Graft in our hearts the love of your Name. Graft meaning to insert, implant, transplant into our hearts God’s heart of love.
There are many other personifications of our hearts.
In Lent in Morning Prayer we often read the Prayer of Manasseh (BCP pp. 90-91) where we appeal to God for forgiveness as we “Bend the knee of my heart.” Our image is bowing our body and especially our heart as we ask on the bended knee of our heart for forgiveness for the harmful things we have done to others. Another great prayer image.
In the marriage ceremony if the Song of Solomon (8:6) is read, we will hear, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, .. for love is stronger than death.” A seal upon our heart..a seal is a substance joining two together. It can be a substance with something stamped on it or a badge saying that this document comes from the sender. If we view this in our relationship to God we are asking to be stuck to God like glue and marked as at baptism, “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Again, in a Morning Prayer Canticle, the Song of Ezekiel (36:26), God says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” What a great image for our prayers: asking God to take away our heart of stone.
My favorite image of our heart is in the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict. The founder of the Benedictine monastic tradition’s very first words to us are, “Listen with the ear of your heart.” What an image for our relationship to God and our neighbors. Listening to God, listening to those we meet with not just the outer part or pinna or lobe of our ear, but with the middle and especially the inner part of our ear and connect what we hear to our heart that no longer is a heart of stone but has been tightly grafted to the love of God.
Hold on to these images of our hearts in this new year. They could be resolutions that could change our lives.
Listen with the ear of your heart.
Graft in our hearts the love of your Name.
Set me as a seal upon your heart.
Bend the knee of my heart.
Remove from me my heart of stone.
We will review them on February 14th