A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Losing heart is worse.
Everything has a shadow side. My mind does. It’s called ego. I don’t like it but it’s just they way it is. I’ve discovered its voracious appetite for information. It tricks me regularly. It makes me feel that I know everything and grinds night and day to keep me in control and looking cool. My mind is constantly calculating, planning, weighing, and criticizing.
The problem is how my busy mind keeps me from hearing what’s more important: the voice of my heart. I don’t hear it over the din of my relentlessly busy mind. When I can hear my heart and grasp its message, I feel a sense of inner congruity and personal wholeness. This is a qualitatively different experience that I have when my mind masters challenges. I may arrive at logical conclusions but my heart remains unmoved. Losing heart in the mind’s busyness feels empty.
In this regard I noticed how Pope Francis’ captured the hearts of so many Americans, recently. He did mine. When I put my mind to it, I recognized that his message was not anything new. He exhorted us to feed and shelter the poor, protect the world’s resources, harness the greed and abuses of the powerful and give sanctuary to the vulnerable and be compassionate. The Old Testament prophets of Judaism, Christian saints and Buddhist practitioners have been saying that for eons. What happened that made his message so fresh and compelling? It’s because he spoke the truth from his heart. When we speak from the heart, all kinds of possibilities arise.
And so I felt sad after reading some newspaper columns and hearing cynical comments from presidential hopefuls following Pope Francis’ recent visit to the States. Bright light casts dark shadows. The remarks were patronizing and dismissive, radically different from how the majority of people experienced the pope.
George Will, for instance, was openly contemptuous. He referred to Francis having “indiscriminate zeal . . . ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary.” He dismisses the pope’s speeches as “fact free flamboyance.” He accuses him of “rhetorical exhibitionism.” Will sums up the pope’s visit as “jauntily [making] his church congruent with the secular religion of ‘sustainability.’” In the lofty and erudite ways that the learned put down those whom they don’t like, Will trashes the Pope’s visionary challenge.
Columnist Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s son, while slightly less contemptuous, was patronizing. He went at some lengths to underscore what the pope should have but didn’t do. Why didn’t the pope “throw his weight around and shame the Castro brothers before the whole world.” Reagan lectures the pope: Didn’t the pope “realize that 401(k) s and pension funds owe their good returns to the health of Wall Street and the stock market?” Reagan’s parting salvo to the pope: “ . . . he’ll never figure out how to actually help them (my italics) until he understands what made America so wealthy and stops worrying about the wrong thing.” There’s no question in my mind that the pope understands exactly what’s made America so wealthy. That’s why he’s worried and thinks we should be, too.
I have wondered whether Reagan, Will and other political champions of capitalism who discounted the pope were uneasy about some aspects of capitalism. Capitalism, too, has a shadow side. They see how Francis’ vision demands dramatic economic and political reforms that would have unsettling impacts on today’s political America. My guess is that they’re not up to the challenge and so want to discredit it. The pope’s vision may be a timeless admonition but it’s right here today. We experience a disappearing middle class, the obscene salaries of corporate executives, the marginalizing of the poor, the country’s Enron and Wall Street sleights of hand– all these are no secrets. But we’re not accustomed to truth telling, or hearing people in power speaking from their hearts.
I found genuineness in the pope’s persona – ironically, cloaked in the garb of medieval royalty and power – that communicated authenticity and humility. I saw no evidence of posturing. He spoke with the spirit and passion of a prophet. I sense he knew he had a cache of moral authority and was spending it to address what everyone knows in his heart but doesn’t know how to address it: the wave of our future and the hope of our survival is in finding ways of caring for each other and for our environment.
Prophets are not necessarily leaders. What they do is point the way. Their visions open hearts and inspire movements but few are skilled in the details required to realize the vision. Politicians with a heart can help a lot. That said, I dread to think we will get anywhere without prophetic voices stirring our hearts. We’ll be lost in the shadows.
In the book of Proverbs, the author puts it simply: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.