Hatching of the heart

Daily Reading for October 8

The “closed heart” is a striking image for our condition. It is as if our selves are normally encased in a hard rind, in a tough shell. Why is this so? Why do we commonly have closed hearts? For some, it is the result of a chaotic childhood marked by abuse or radical instability. The self builds up layers of protection to defend itself against an unreliable and hurtful world.

But the condition does not develop only in people with difficult childhoods. The closed heart is the natural process of growing up. The birth and development of self-awareness involves an increasing sense of being a separated self. We live within this separated self, as if the self is enclosed in a dome, a transparent shell. Like an invisible shield, the dome is a boundary separating the self from the world. It can become hard and rigid. It closes us off from the world, and we live centered in ourselves. The same process of growing up that creates the need to be born again creates the need for our hearts to be opened. To mix metaphors, the reason we need to be born again is because we have closed hearts.

It is interesting to reflect about what opens and closes our hearts on a daily basis. I am aware that some days my heart is more open than other days. Even in the course of a single day, there are moments when my heart is more open or more closed. Sometimes it is closed because of tiredness, worry, or busyness. I know that my heart is closed whenever I feel grumpy or self-preoccupied, when the world looks ordinary, or when the critical voice is strong in my head, whether directed at myself or others. When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed.

When our hearts are closed, we live within a shell. To extend the egg metaphor: the shell needs to be broken open if the life within it is to enter into full life. What we need is the “hatching of the heart.” And if the heart is not hatched, we die. This hatching of the heart—the opening of the self to God, the sacred—is a comprehensive image for the individual dimension of the Christian life.

From The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus J. Borg (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003).

Past Posts