If you have a heart…
Abba Pambo said, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”
The stark simplicity of this Word from a desert eighteen centuries before us is itself a message. Surely a statement such as this cannot be correct.
To the ancient world, the human heart was more than the seat of human feelings, more than an icon of human emotions as we are most likely to regard it now. The heart, to the Desert Monastics and the culture around them, was the spiritual point of intersection that made the human, human. From the heart came the wellspring of spirit and action, insight and will, sensitivity and meaning—that brought the individual to fullness of life. To lack any of these dimensions of life was to lack what it takes to live consciously, spiritually, and lovingly.
Unbounded emotion, important as feeling is to human direction, is an insufficient approach to any issue. It connects us to the feelings of the world, but it does not resolve the problems. Understanding and emotions do not change the past or cure the present. Only conversion of the spirit can do that.
Insight into an issue may well suggest a direction out of it. But the intellectual appreciation of a problem gives us, at most, a series of options for action. Simply doing something differently does not guarantee a solution.
In the end, spirit alone determines what we have to bring to every situation. It is what we have within us that determines whether we have what it takes both to save a situation and to save ourselves.
If the spirit is good, steeped in the Word of God and livened by the mercy of it, then the situation is resolvable. Love will prevail, and at the same time, justice will be done.
If the spirit is bad, no good will come of it. Closed to the other, driven by emotions dipped in poison, bent on destruction rather than development, the situation will only deteriorate. If control rather than conversion of heart—our own as well as the other’s—is the foal, that kind of spirit will only make a bad situation worse.
When the heart goes sour, the human being goes astray, humanity withers before our eyes, and the salvation of our small, hurting world will need to wait for someone else. Someone, as Abba Pambo said, with heart.
—from In God’s Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics, by Joan Chittister