Thursday, 29 November 2012

God's Handwriting: Hearts

An anonymous commentator (ladies, no anonymous comments!) asked a very good question about how you can learn to read God's handwriting on your hearts and histories. This is the kind of question you could ask your spiritual directors or your confessors, although as "God's handwriting" is my own turn of phrase, they might be a bit confused at first. Maybe the question should be (to non-readers of this blog): How do see in my own heart and life God's will for me?

I am not a spiritual director, but I do have an M.Div. and an STB and, gosh darn it, a diploma in Lonergan Studies, so I will do my best to elucidate what I mean by God's handwriting.

First of all, the image of God writing on our hearts is an old one, and I've heard it most often used of the reason why we know murder is wrong. We all seem to grow up knowing that murder is wrong, and when we try to flush our little brothers and sisters down the toilet or push them down the stairs, we lie about it when caught.

This suggests that God has written other things on our hearts, too, that seem completely natural to us, like deep down loving our parents (even when we are furious with them) or feeling protective towards children or not wanting to sleep with just anybody.

Now one big objection to trusting the inclinations of the human heart is the fact that the human heart can be very selfish and even deluded. And this is why Catholics (for example) talk about "the formation of the conscience." Our consciences are formed by our parents' moral teachings, our teachers' moral teachings, our priests' moral teachings, prayer and Scripture. They can also be formed by reading theology, the writings of great saints, and great literature. And, of course, they can be formed by meeting people who are as unlike us as possible, particularly when they are weak: the very young, the very old, the sick, the refugee, the lonely foreign student, the formerly-middle-class man in a food bank for the first time in his life.

Consciences can also, of course, be deformed. There are a lot of interests out there competing for your conscience. There are people who will try to convince you that things Christian doctrine says are wrong are right, and that things Christian doctrine says are right are wrong. This may very often have to do with their own not-so-private struggles.

For example, England's youngest-ever tran**exual was shown on telly last week, being interviewed for a beauty contest. When asked why he-now-legally-she wanted to compete, the tran**exual said, "I want to educate people." Not win a prize, or have a good time, or show off how feminine a male body can be, or jumpstart a modelling career, but to educate people, in the same sense 20th century communist regimes enjoyed re-educating people. Such education was not to make the lives of the re-educated better, but to forward the triumph of the educators' will.

So pick your conscience-formers wisely. Which reminds me, if you ever feel really enthusiastic about anything I say, run it past your priest, your therapist, your best pal or your favourite aunt. (Just do me a favour and quote me exactly!) Even though I'm a lot of fun, I am just a lady with a blog, you know? I have zero teaching authority. I could be wrong, and if it is about something that takes math skills, I probably am.

If you have a well-informed conscience, and you are sincerely following Christ, then I think you can trust your own most cherished desires as God-given, especially if you often pray, go to church, keep an eye on your conscience (it is a Jesuit practice to run through the day's decisions before going to sleep) and check in with a priest (through confession, for example) or spiritual director once in a while.

Tomorrow I will write about God's handwriting on our personal histories.


Chris said...

Seraphic, this is SOOO helpful.

That's really all I have to say right now, but I just wanted to express how encouraging and helpful these posts are, even though they don't deal directly with men and relationships. I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

Seraphic said...

I'm glad you find it hopeful!

Seraphic said...

I mean, helpful. But hopeful is good, too!

Carol said...

Maybe the most insidious formator of consciences is the voice that says 'What the Church teaches isn't really what the Church teaches.'

Great post, Seraphic. So much of life does appear to be a matter of waiting long enough to work out the well-informed inclinations of the heart as opposed to the deluded inclinations of the heart.

Christine P. said...

If you have a well-informed conscience, and you are sincerely following Christ, then I think you can trust your own most cherished desires as God-given[...]

This. Yes. Bring it back to Psalm 37: "Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart."

I take that not to mean that God will just give us the things that we want, as if it were a magical transaction. But when we delight in God, when we spend time in his word, those things change us. God does give us the desires of our hearts: that is to say, he changes our hearts until our desires for ourselves line up with his.

It's quite astonishing, really.