Over the past few weeks I have had to learn again what Solomon meant when he said, ” Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” I had heard, and even quoted, this statement countless times and yet it took my unguarded heart to confront me with it anew. I have often grappled with the notion of a guarded heart: When I was younger I associated it with security, a way to keep the world, and its pain, out. I have, however, also seen the danger in closing my heart off as it grew cold within me. At one point I found myself rejecting the notion altogether as I resigned myself to the observation that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand or guard it?
Perhaps I can best describe my most recent journey in terms of the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word “guard”. To guard something is to watch over it in order to protect or control it. My first (knee-jerk) reaction is to reject the inclusion of control in this formulation. However, one of the most important things I have learnt about my heart is that it is my responsibility; and that what I fill it with is what ultimately flows out of me in my work, my relationships and the way I live my life. The second part of the definition really complements this as it describes guarding something as protecting it against damage or harm. Seeing these two components in balance is perhaps the most important thing I am still having to learn – acknowledging that my heart is something precious and worth protecting, but simultaneously a complex conduit that fills my life for better or worse. Friedrich Nietzsche said it well, “One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.”
I referenced city hymns’ rendition of Satisfied a couple of weeks ago and two statements from this hymn that are still ringing through my mind seem to tie in with this:
“All my life long I had panted for a drink from some cool spring
That I hoped would quench the burning of the thirst I felt within…
…Feeding on the filth around me, ‘till my strength was almost gone
Longed my soul for something better, only still to hunger on…”