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March 17, 2010

I have identified one possible explanation for one particular mystery in the universe. I think it likely that the difficulty of pouring one’s whole heart into something might stem from the fact that one’s heart is fragmented. At least I strongly suspect this is true in my case.

I should clarify that I mean “heart” in the New Testament Greek sense, as the center of mentation. I find it fairly easy to pour my whole bowl of emotional soup into something, and find my bowl restored to fullness as soon as another worthy cause comes along. But this is not what I mean by heart. By heart I mean the part of one’s being capable of focused, conscious, purposeful thought; and by “thought” I mean applied attention resulting in clarification of understanding and/or increased knowledge worthy of its storage space. And by thought I also mean prayer. Prayer is a very important form of thought, and a distinct one, because it requires receptivity; it requires listening space, and so is very unlike the sort of thought that results in stored information. But prayer is a form of thought because it requires structured knowledge to advance. Prayer has its own grammar in a sense, because its subject and its object are the same.

But a fragmented heart wanders, alighting on one assignment while contemplating its next — or its last one, or another of any amount of time past. For instance, my nimble heart leaps locust-like onto Korean grammar. While there, it processes its response to Aquinas, who cited Titus 3:10 to justify the policy that impenitent heretics should “be exterminated from the world by death…” Ah, but Thomas, what of Titus 3:11? If a heretic is self-condemned, where are Paul’s instructions for executing him? Isn’t removal from the church more in keeping with the idea? This thought found a wormhole; before Korean grammar, I was reading Documents of the Christian Church. And while reading that, I was mentally composing an e-mail that I still haven’t written.

Later, as I write that e-mail, I’ll likely be working out the details for the Verna equinox tea I’m having for my 96-year-old friend Verna later this week. Doubtless the matter of whether to splurge on cream-colored napkins will resurface.

Either this is not interesting because everyone does this, or this is interesting because everyone does this; or this is not interesting because no one does this, or this is interesting because no one does this. In any case, what I have learned as I focused a stray modicum of attention by writing about this, is that I must pray for consolidation of heart before I am qualified to pray for consolation or consideration.

  1. March 17, 2010 11:51 am

    I think this is interesting because everyone does it. I remember a few years ago realizing what happened as soon as I sat down at the piano to play a familiar tune. My mind was immediately as far from the music as possible, alighting on anything but, even when I sat down expressly to practice the music and forced upon myself a futile exercise: to concentrate only on the notes and music while I played. It was quite impossible and intensely frustrating, so I gave up after a few days and just let my thoughts wander. I’m not sure whether a completely focused thought life at all times is a virtue per se. Certainly it ought to be fought when it happens during worship or prayer, which unsurprisingly happens often for me. And I know I ought to pray with David, “unite my heart to fear Your name,” inspired evidence that there is a fragmentation of heart which compromises the fear of God and single-mindedness in service to Him.

  2. March 17, 2010 12:17 pm

    Laura, I know you are right: the fellowship of fragmentation must be nearly universal. And I share your suspicion that a completely focused thought life, rather than next to godliness, is next to impossible — as Pig Pen might say.

    Besides, if this weren’t common, if not ubiquitous, The Screwtape Letters wouldn’t be such a hit.

  3. Vic permalink
    March 17, 2010 12:25 pm

    It is interesting because everyone does this. And your post did it to me because it drove me to look up Titus 3 in the Vulgate. 3:10 says:

    3:10 hereticum hominem post unam et secundam correptionem devita.

    I looked up “devita” because it was the only word I couldn’t figure out. It means, more or less, “keep clear of.”

    So Thomas was doing a bit of eisogesis, I think.

    And, like Laura, this happens all the time when I play music. I remember once giving a recital in front of a whole hall of music students, playing a 15 minute organ work from memory. Half way through my mind was fly-fishing on a river in northwest Montana. In the background I started hearing strange sounds–notes in a foreign key. Then back to reality. I had modulated a whole step up and had no idea where I was in the music. After improvising for a short while, I found my place and finished.

    Most people didn’t notice, or at least were too polite to say, but my professor wasn’t fooled. He sentenced me to several more recitals until I could prove I could control my daydreams.

    But, I don’t think it took hold.

    So back to the subject, what do you think of wool socks?

  4. March 17, 2010 12:29 pm

    I think this is why we are married, and why Laura is a dear friend. We all like wool socks. Oh yikes — I smell smoke….

  5. Laura K permalink
    March 17, 2010 3:09 pm

    LOL, Lauren. I am currently exiled from my (only partially wool) socks until I can get to the yarn shop, because while I was decreasing away on my sock the other day, I finished a row and the second circular needle dropped into my lap—totally devoid of stitches. I almost fainted in distress. I am really not sure what happened and much less sure of what I can do to fix it. But I am sure Kay can help. I think.

    Vic, that is hilarious. I guess I should be somewhat grateful for a good dose of stage fright that keeps me focused on the music when I’m playing in front of anybody (anybody at all—I even got nervous playing something in front of my husband the other day).

  6. March 17, 2010 3:16 pm

    Laura, re: your sock — we have a saying at our house, “I don’t know how these things happen.”

    During my performances, I was more like you, rigidly focused on the music — which I was invariably READING. Memorizing and performing do not go together.

    Note how seamlessly I attended to your comment as it flashed in the corner of my screen as I was working in RosettaStone.

  7. Laura K permalink
    March 18, 2010 2:28 pm

    I sit sipping a cafe mocha made with Medaglia d’oro (which I always want to spell “Medalgia,” like it’s a disease characterized by pain!) so I was reminded to visit your blog. The smell of the espresso must be driving my cat wild. She never tries repeatedly to pounce on my motionless feet. This is getting obnoxious.

    So what was the smoke you smelled? You blazing through Rosetta Stone? :)

  8. March 18, 2010 2:36 pm

    This is uncanny. I was just blazing through RosettaStone again when your comment flashed up. I just completed a grammar section and was about to get up and get some near-fragrance-free green tea. Coolidge is perched overhead on his tower, not without menace, I suspect.

    I think the smoke was my omelette. I’m not supposed to walk away and look at the computer while anything is cooking… but it’s okay; it didn’t char :-).

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