Love, the desire for union and also the suffering that flows from this longing, is often spoken of as centered in the heart. The heart does respond to human emotions in a powerful way, be it from love, hatred, anger or fear. Often when someone is under great emotional stress, the heart is often felt as a pounding against the rib cage. However, it is the area of relationships that the heart is meant, when speaking in terms of the heart being broken or wounded and in need of healing.

When in my early twenties, I would say I was either 22 or 23, there came a time when I actually felt like my heart was an abyss of pain and darkness; it felt like an untended, sore, oozing infection. I felt a great deal of pain in my chest area, a great weight actually in which I could not alleviate in any way. If I tried to find some surcease it only made the pain worse, so I learned from experience that it was best to simply sit with it, though it was of course very difficult; I simply had no choice. I would often just sit, praying and looking into this abyss wondering what was going on and if there was anything I could do about it.

Slowly over the years healing has come, though there is still more that needs to be done. The deep inner abyss, at least as felt in the heart area is no longer there, nor the pressure or great weight. I would suppose it was the search for love and union that was the cause of this pain. I think it started after I had an inner ‘vision’ (a natural event, for I have a very intense inner life), in this experience I saw myself  (I was an outside observer) at the bottom of a staircase looking up towards the top of the stairs, which were quite wide and steep.  At the entrance was a door made of bone, very white and on the sides there were large teeth that would interlock if the gate closed. The only thing I can say is that I was given the choice to keep the gate open or to allow it to close in on me forever. I chose life and so the gate remained open. It was soon after that that I began to experience this specific kind of pain that had no physical cause. So I guess my saying ‘yes’ was in some way giving permission for this to emerge. So if the heart is the gateway to love and union, it is also the portal that allows all that needs healing or blocks that union to be felt, seen and healed. This is of course a common human experience, though how one expresses this human condition will vary from person to person. There are many artists who deal with this in their songs. The hearts search for the living water that will quench its thirst. In the Old Testament, the “Song of Songs” also deals with this longing in deeply sexual and sensual terms. Yet it is about our relationship with God and God’s relationship with us.

I suppose that one of the ways that people seek to escape this kind of pain is to shut down, but that comes with a heavy price. Some deal with this existential problem through addictions, which gives some temporary respite but in the end only increases suffering. For I believe that mankind being made in the image of God is made to love and for love and all that gets in the way of that has to be pruned or burned away. John of the Cross talks about this in his book “The dark night of the soul” and it seems that for most people this is an experience that has to be gone through if healing is to be attained. If healing is forestalled then an endless cycle of pain, confusion and despair may have to be gone through over and over again. The death to self that is needed in order to experience a broader existence cannot be sidestepped. Just ask any good and loving parent when they have children. The love of a parent for his or her child can be very painful and healing at the same time. For the child needs must come first, theirs second. Parents who cannot feel this, need to be pitied and not condemned, for often through no fault of their own they are incapable of this kind of relationship……though grace, at least according to my faith is always at work.

In welcoming people into his kingdom, in the Last Judgment scene in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus surprised many by saying they will be welcomed because they visited him in prison, fed and clothed him and took care of him when ill. This is a very interesting part of the New Testament that is often overlooked or passed by. Again it is all about the heart and how it loves. Not as a work, but as something that flows from the heart in concern for those outside ones tribe or circle; it is an expression of ones inner self and also about their relationship with God, even if it is perhaps unconscious. There are people who as they grow, their heart expands and they see beauty in the lowly, the despised, the forgotten and those in prison. Those who often don’t have a tribe or a place to rest their heads; they are often homeless and bereft of comfort and support and are not overlooked by a loving heart that is healed and guided by grace.

There is faith, hope and charity. Charity is the greatest for it is the one virtue that will survive death, the rest die here, no longer needed, at least as far as this experience in life is concerned. Jesus did say “It is not those who say Lord, Lord, who will enter the gates of heaven, but those who do the will of the Father”. Which seems to be to love one another, not in some pious sentimental way, but in a down to earth, sweating blood sort of thing, real and rooted in reality, with the courage not to seek escape through contempt, hatred and anger toward those outside ones tribe, religion, or country. Faith is not the crutch, for it leads to the cross, the ability to love in spite of the pain of others or even rejection. This is the work of grace.

I fail, when I forget the above. When I fear to truly see those before me as another self, also as one beloved by God and made in God’s image and likeness. The problem I think is when we make God into our image and likeness, which happens, for idols still abound both within and without. Yet we are each the beloved of God, hard as that is to see at times. The intimacy that God has with each of us, something that the Christian faith teaches, is that God in Christ bears our pain, our shame and suffering and also our inner alienation and our feeling of being cut of from God and one another.

God’s power is love, man’s power is to control, objectify and use. The subject disappears and all that is left is a thing, less than human, that can be sold as a slave, abused in the sex trade or to simply be one of the populace to be manipulated to spend ones money on what is not needed. Blindness to the subjectivity of the other brings forth bitter fruit that actually seems to be getting worse as the world grows weary and ages.

Those in power are there because they want it, crave it and will often do anything to get to the top. The will-to-power trumps over love every time, hence the corruption both in religion and politics. I have no answer, except from what I have learned from my own inner experience and also experiences that are shared by many others. The ability to love comes about by being open to grace and to the pain that has to be gotten through to have a more expansive heart for others and by that I mean those ‘outside’. Outsiders are less than human, easy to feel contempt for and even easier to enslave and kill. To love ones family and friends is truly a wonderful thing but it is not what Christ is calling those who follow him to. Love of family is for most a given, natural, good and healing. It is also natural to hate and despise those outside. Christ is found in those outside, for the heart has to expand in order to do that. This is grace at work, something freely given to all who seek, knock and strive to grow in love and compassion.

All human striving towards compassion and love is in actuality a response to an invitation that is offered to all. Each will respond uniquely, some will not, the fate of each in the hand of a loving and compassionate God, whose love, which is infinite, can often be experienced or seen as cruel.

I feel that mankind is caught in a web of its own making, bound with tight strong threads that show its self in how our cultures actually work in spite of our high ideals. Only grace can cut those cords, allowing each of us to allow Christ love to enter the world through each one of us. Those who follow other traditions will use other words and analogies, yet perhaps it is all said simply in the golden rule, “treat others as you would want to be treated”, which is found in religious traditions all over world. To follow this seemingly simply injunctions, one will have to know how they would actually want to be treated in any given circumstances, in other words, become conscious, aware of what is before you and act accordingly; not react.

The heart

We choose, decide, what to believe, what to accept and reject, how to respond to others who think differently, which says a more about who we are than those we react against.

Contempt is the easy way out; it relieves the burden of listening, taking seriously the inner world of others, who also have hearts wherein the infinite resides within the finite.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

  1. Mark,
    This is deep and heady stuff. I believe that you have seen the light and been enlightened by it. Thank you for sharing so deeply, my brother.

    My greatest fear before receiving my heart transplant was not the fear of dying. I was afraid that my new heart would not have the capicity to love as my old heart. I know that the heart is a muscle, yet, it has a mystical property far beyond comprehension.

    I am thankful that when my old heart was removed that mystical property hid out somewhere in my chest and found it’s way into my new heart. My new heart is much bigger than my old heart and therefore it’s love capacity is much greater.

  2. Mark Dohle

    Yes I would imagine having a heart transplant would be something fearful to go through. I am very glad things worked out for you. Thank you for your kind comment.


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