I wonder if writers sometimes just write words — words devoid of emotion or conviction or passion. I wonder if you would read my dispassionate words today just as you read my more passionate ones on other days. And does it even matter to you if the words I write come from my heart? Or not.
I ask because today my heart feels empty, just as it has felt for several days past. It’s that sense of numbness, maybe even a soul emptiness that hurts more than full-on despair. I cannot put my finger on a reason for it. I say to my friends, “I’m depressed,” but only because I can’t think of a better description, at least not one that most people would understand.
I have two particular friends, friends with whom I have a special relationship. We talk often about our feelings, about depression or anxiety, excitement or joy. We also ask one another a question that bypasses all superfluous language and tedious, spiritless conversation. The question is this:
How is Your heart?
The question gets us to the heart of the matter (pun not at all intended). The question gets us past the need to reticently enter into meaningful conversation. It bypasses all the fluff. It requires no long discourses on how depression feels or where we think it came from. It just asks a straightforward question that calls for an upfront, honest answer.
Just this: “How is your heart?” That’s it. We save a lot of time that way!
Either we struggle for a just a few seconds to figure out our honest answer, or we simply say, “I don’t know.” I realized not too long ago when my friend asked me about my heart that I was receiving her question as one of genuine concern for my well being. I did not feel that she was asking for a bunch of words like a treatise on my current state of being. I did not feel that she was asking me to bare the plethora of my feelings. I did not feel that she wanted to hear a string of words. I certainly did not feel that she was asking for a “How are you? I am fine,” conversation (likely the most meaningless set of words ever spoken).
She was not asking me for any of that, words and words and more words. She was asking about my heart, the seat of emotions, they say. All she wanted to know about was the condition of my heart — what longing was there; what heartache was there; what joy was there in that moment.
I always answer that question because it is a holy one. It’s never just words — her question or my answer. Instead, it is a sacred pause we enter, knowing that we will share with one another thoughts that are much deeper than words. We will share from the wellsprings of our lives.
The Egyptians taught that the heart was the seat of the soul. The ancient Hindus believed that the soul was located in the heart. The Aztecs said, “The heart is the seat of the soul.
“How is your heart?”
It is a question overflowing with meaning. The wise Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) wrote that the heart is the seat of the soul. Another man of wisdom, Augustine of Hippo, actually behaved quite unwisely for a time, causing speculation that he was perhaps suffering from depression. The many wild wanderings of his youth caused him to harm his very soul and left him sitting at the salt pools of death. From that place, Augustine returned to God, like a bird to its forsaken nest. And he said in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in thee.”
― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
I empathize with Augustine, if indeed he did suffer from depression. And yes, it is true that all these words have emerged from my own place of depression. Yet, even from that deep place where my heart feels wounded, I can still rest in knowing that my heart is the seat of my soul, a place I diligently guard. Gratefully, I can still rest in the fact that I am clothed in the comforting presence of my friends who never fail to ask, “How is your heart?”
To them — Sister Lee Ann and Monica — I dedicate this post.
For them, for us, the question is not just empty, superfluous words. Between us the words are sacred words, a holy question that taps into the “wellsprings” of my life. I always answer that kind of question. For these two friends, and a few other friends who keep vigil with me whenever I am depressed, I give thanks to God. Amen.
Guard your heart with all diligence,
for from it flow the wellsprings of life.