“Ya Gotta Have Heart, All You Really Need is Heart” (Lyric from ‘Damn Yankees’
When it came time to choose a king to replace King Saul, the Lord gave this criterion to his prophet Samuel: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; … for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
This week’s CFM reading of Helaman 13-16 inspired these thoughts on the heart.
Samuel the Lamanite had heart. Helaman 13:3 “But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him [Samuel the Lamanite], that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart. 4 And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city...and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart. 5 ...Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart…”
The Nephites did NOT have heart. Helaman 13:8 “...thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them. 12 ...yea, wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord. 22 ...yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities. 27 ...if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.”
The Lamanites had heart. 15:7 “And behold, ye do know of yourselves, for ye have witnessed it, that as many of them [the Lamanites] as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, ...and are led to believe the holy scriptures,...leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them…”
In these few passages of scripture we learn that 1) the Lord can put words into open hearts; 2) that people can choose to harden their hearts because of pride and doing their ‘own’ thing, rather than God’s will, and 3) that through faith and repentance the Lord can change our hearts. On the one hand we use our agency to choose to harden our hearts and on the other, we use our agency to allow God to soften our hearts.
So, what does it mean to have heart? The physical heart is described, simplistically, as a pump because everything in the heart is designed to make the blood circulate throughout the body. Do emotions originate in your heart? Science says no. Do thoughts originate in there? Again, no. We’re told that emotions actually come from the brain. When an emotion is generated in the brain, the body reacts almost before the brain understands what’s been seen or heard or tasted or smelled. Nearly all strong emotions cause the heart to speed up. Other physiological changes occur automatically, as well. So while there is a connection between the heart and mind, the point of origin is the brain. I have to admit that I’m not quite convinced that this explains the heart fully.
And I may not be completely wrong. Recently, fascinating research has emerged indicating that the heart/emotion connection is not so cut and dried. “...We have found that heart rate variability (heart-rhythm) patterns are consistently the most dynamic and reflective of changes in one’s emotional state...Changes in heart-rhythm patterns clearly reflect when an individual is experiencing positive or negative emotions. For example, the research shows, sustained positive emotions are associated with a noticeably coherent, smooth and balanced heart-rhythm pattern. In contrast, negative emotions are reflected by a jagged, erratic pattern.” They found: “The rhythmic patterns generated by the heart are not only reflective of emotions, but actually appear to play a key role in influencing moment-to-moment emotional perception and experience. In short, through its extensive interactions with the brain and body, the heart emerges as a critical component of the emotional system.” (HeartMath Institute (HMI) Research Director Dr. Rollin McCraty writes in his scientific monograph, Heart-Brain Neurodynamics: The Making of Emotions. Who knew?
What We Are Taught
Written upon our hearts. I’ve experienced the Holy Spirit in my mind where truth has been revealed in words and concepts. I sensed it in my brain. Then light expanded my intellectual perceptions and understanding. In these experiences emotions followed thought.
Often, I sit reading the word or listening to uplifting music or listening to a prophet speak when, starting in the heart area, I feel a physical ease, my blood is circulating better; my breath is easier. Measurably. Warmth spreads out in that region of my body and I feel peace. This is how the Spirit ordinarily (although it’s definitely not ordinary) feels to me.
However, more rare but just as real, my encounters with the Spirit seem to come from someplace else. For example, I was sitting in my room overcome with sadness and, unbidden, light entered my entire body starting at the top at the top of my skull and making its way all the way to my feet--filling me up. Not just unasked for, but not even imagined. This has happened a few times in my life.
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Spirit of God speaking to the spirit of man has power to impart truth...Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten.” My experiences with the Spirit back up this idea of truth being woven into my entire being, being “written upon the heart”.
Jeremiah the Prophet was shut up in prison and Israel had failed to keep covenant with God. As a consequence, the nation was falling. God promised to establish a ‘new’ covenant. The covenant established the basis of their relationship with God.
Jeremiah 31:33 “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
The old covenant was written on parchment and tablets of stone. As a result, they needed scribes to write it and others to teach it so that the people could live it. With the ‘new’ covenant His law would be written directly on the individual’s heart and inward parts.
2 Corinthians 3:3 “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”
Here Paul is speaking of the new covenant just as Jeremiah was. Jesus is the mediator of the ‘new’ covenant and Paul places Jesus Christ at the top of the hierarchy. “The apostle and others were but instruments, Christ was the author of all the good that was in them. The law of Christ was written in their hearts, and the love of Christ shed abroad in their hearts. This epistle was not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; nor was it written in tables of stone, as the law of God given to Moses, but on the heart; and that heart not a stony one, but a heart of flesh, upon the fleshy tables of the heart, that is, upon hearts that are softened and renewed by divine grace, according to that gracious promise [found in] Ezekiel 36:26 “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Matthew Henry Commentary)
Bruce R. McConkie believes that, “[i]n the ultimate sense, the gospel is not written on tablets of stone or in books of scripture, but in the bodies of faithful and obedient persons; the saints are, thus, living epistles of the truth, the books of whose lives are open for all to read.: (‘Doctrinal New Testament Commentary’, Volume II, 414) As the ‘new’ covenant is written upon our hearts we receive a ‘new heart’ and become living epistles of the truth.
“Written in our hearts.
Write [thy] blessed name, O Lord,
upon my heart
There to remain so indelibly engraved
that no prosperity or adversity
shall ever move me from thy love.”
[D. Grotenhuis and Thomas à Kempis (Dayton, Ohio: The Sacred Music Press, 1991)
I believe that the heart’s function goes beyond being a “pump”. Passion, commitment, joy, praise, discipleship--these emanate from the heart.
Purposes of the heart. Albert Einstein believed that "[t]he intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
“The scriptures teach us that, like the soul, the heart encompasses both the body and the spirit (see Alma 32:28)—the heart is the very center of our being. We “rejoice” with our heart (D&C 97:21); we “ponder” with our heart (see Luke 2:19); we “understand” with our heart (John 12:40). It is our heart that is “humble” (see Alma 42:30); it is with our heart that we “discern” (l Kings 3:9) and are “edified” (see D&C 50:23); and it is with our heart that we experience “reverence” (see 1 Peter 3:15), “inspiration” (see Alma 43:48), and “joy” (2 Nephi 1:21).” (The Education of the Heart, Russell T. Osguthorpe Mar. 21, 1995)
We find some nuance in the workings of the Spirit in relation to the heart in 2 Ne 33:1 “And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.” The Holy Ghost carries teachings and feelings ‘unto’ the heart but not ‘into’ the heart. We must receive it. “ A teacher can explain, demonstrate, persuade, and testify, and do so with great spiritual power and effectiveness. Ultimately, however, the content of a message and the witness of the Holy Ghost penetrate into the heart only if a receiver allows them to enter. Learning by faith opens the pathway into the heart.” (Elder David Bednar, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/teach-and-learn-by-study-and-faith?lang=eng) I think it’s interesting to note that even the Holy Ghost preserves agency!
Marvin J. Ashton tells us that “[t]he measure of our hearts is the measure of our total performance. As used by the Lord, the “heart” of a person describes his effort to better self, or others, or the conditions he confronts.” He continues. “Why the heart? Because the heart is a synonym for one’s entire makeup. We often use phrases about the heart to describe the total person. Thus, we describe people as being “big-hearted” or “goodhearted” or having a “heart of gold.” Or we speak of people with faint hearts, wise hearts, pure hearts, willing hearts, deceitful hearts, conniving hearts, courageous hearts, cold hearts, hearts of stone, or selfish hearts.” (Marvin J. Ashton, The Measure of Our Hearts, Ensign, Oct 1988) There are other heart words like:
Hearts seem to be filled with meaning and purpose.
King Benjamin referred to the relationship between the heart and the mind during his great General Conference in Mosiah 2:9 “...My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words...for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.” God pursues us. He desires to bless us with everything. Discipleship requires us to give what we can. Heart, might mind, and soul. He will magnify our offerings beyond measure through the grace of His Atonement.
“For our lives to become the music of hope for the world, our learning must be heart deep; it must reach our very core. We must be able not only to access information but to understand; we must acquire not only knowledge but wisdom. In this day and age we can look up anything, but it can only change us if we know it in our hearts.”
“O remember, remember,” Alma said to each of his sons (Helaman 5:9). Let us “treasure up wisdom” in our hearts (D&C 38:30) by dwelling in our hearts on blessings of protection, comfort, and peace; by pondering in our hearts moments of inspiration and revelation; and, above all, by remembering that we are covenant children of Heavenly Father. We must engrave our covenants in the fleshy tables of our hearts...)”
(BYU Speeches, Learning by Heart SUSAN W. TANNER August 12, 2004)
Whatever the function of the heart may be-metaphorical or physiological-or both, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to occupy that innermost sacred space where we connect with Deity, enabled to become more like Him in every way.
Albert Einstein believed that "[t]he intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." And so, hedging my bets, I open my mind, my heart, my whole soul to the influence of the Spirit so that I am led along the covenant path towards Him whose heart was the greatest of all.