In the sixth season of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother there’s an episode called “A Change of Heart”. The story goes like this: Marshall’s dad recently died because of a heart attack so Marshall and all his friends get their hearts checked as a precaution. Barney, the womaniser of the group, is the last to go and the cardiologist senses he might have a slight arrhythmia so she asks him to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours. When Barney returns to the doctor’s office she looks at the cardiogram and questions him about particular times during his day, when his heart raced, or when he had a 14-second cardiac arrest (you have to see the episode). The episode is a series of flashbacks based on the happenings of Barney’s heart.
During the evening of that day Barney was on a date with Nora, a girl he’d been falling for, though Barney wasn’t going to admit he might have real feelings for her. Lily, his friend, asked the doctor what happened at 8:30pm, the time his dinner reservation began. We flash back to Barney waiting for Nora at the restaurant. As she walks in and he looks at her the heart monitor on the screen seems to stop for a moment and then start up again. The doctor then said, “His heart… literally skipped a beat.” Lily said, “Your heart’s talking to you, Barney. Do you have the guts to listen to it?”
The heart is an important organ in the spiritual life. Reading it and interpreting what it means can be challenging but worthwhile. Ignatian spirituality focuses on the importance of feelings and experiences. In the episode Barney had a chance to reflect on his experiences of the last 24 hours (examen, anyone?) but with the opportunity also to pay attention to what his heart was saying to him. When he saw Nora enter the restaurant it skipped a beat. It raced in fear when Nora began speaking about marriage. These signs are important in Barney’s discernment about the relationship, and that’s what Lily was trying to get at: Sometimes we may think or say one thing but our heart is telling us a deeper truth.
Ignatius tells us that we can trust our experiences and our feelings. They’re more meaningful than we think. Reflection on both those things are ways God can communicate with us. As George Aschenbrenner, SJ once said, “True desire is the fire in the heart.” Indeed, many religious and philosophical traditions see the heart as our life source.
In the Bible the heart refers to the core of a person. The heart is also our emotional center and the sea of tender affections, especially kindness, benevolence, and compassion. The heart encompasses both our spiritual and psychological experiences.
(Paul Coutinho, SJ, An Ignatian Pathway)
The expression “listen to your heart” is a good one to go by. With enough patience and attentiveness you’ll soon be aware of the signs from God that your heart speaks to you. Butterfly feelings when speaking with a new date may say one thing while nervous feelings before making a life decision may say another. The heart, the gut, and the conscience tend to be words for the same thing: a physical core within us that guides us, warns us, and points us toward one choice or another. Reflecting on our heart’s feelings during past experiences gives us information for future choices.
Take a cue from Lily and read your heart over the last 24 hours. What does it say?
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Music by Kevin MacLeod