Drawing Closer to the Heart of God
Review posted March 8, 2010.
Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1997. 229 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #3 Other Nonfiction
This powerful book explains life as a Sacred Romance. From the first chapter:
The inner life, the story of our heart, is the life of the deep places within us, our passions and dreams, our fears and our deepest wounds. It is the unseen life, the mystery within -- what Buechner calls our "shimmering self." It cannot be managed like a corporation. The heart does not respond to principles and programs; it seeks not efficiency, but passion. Art, poetry, beauty, mystery, ecstasy: These are what rouse the heart. Indeed, they are the language that must be spoken if one wishes to communicate with the heart. It is why Jesus so often taught and related to people by telling stories and asking questions. His desire was not just to engage their intellects but to capture their hearts.
Indeed, if we will listen, a Sacred Romance calls to us through our heart every moment of our lives. It whispers to us on the wind, invites us through the laughter of good friends, reaches out to us through the touch of someone we love. We've heard it in our favorite music, sensed it at the birth of our first child, been drawn to it while watching the shimmer of a sunset on the ocean. The Romance is even present in times of great personal suffering: the illness of a child, the loss of a marriage, the death of a friend. Something calls to us through experiences like these and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, wakening in us a yearning for intimacy, beauty, and adventure.
This longing is the most powerful part of any human personality. It fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, for a sense of being truly alive. However we may describe this deep desire, it is the most important thing about us, our heart of hearts, the passion of our life. And the voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God.
The authors present life as a grand Story:
Life is not a list of propositions, it is a series of dramatic scenes. As Eugene Peterson said, "We live in narrative, we live in story. Existence has a story shape to it. We have a beginning and an end, we have a plot, we have characters." Story is the language of the heart. Our souls speak not in the naked facts of mathematics or the abstract propositions of systematic theology; they speak the images and emotions of story. Contrast your enthusiasm for studying a textbook with the offer to go to a movie, read a novel, or listen to the stories of someone else's life. Elie Wiesel suggests that "God created man because he loves stories." So if we're going to find the answer to the riddle of the earth -- and of our own existence -- we'll find it in story.
But the authors also talk about "Arrows" that pierce our hearts and tell us that life is meaningless, that there is no Romance.
This is the story of all our lives, in one way or another. The haunting of the Romance and the Message of the Arrows are so radically different and they seem so mutually exclusive they split our hearts in two. In every way that the Romance is full of beauty and wonder, the Arrows are equally powerful in their ugliness and devastation. The Romance seems to promise a life of wholeness through a deep connection with the great heart behind the universe. The Arrows deny it, telling us, "You are on your own. There is no Romance, no one strong and kind who is calling you to an exotic adventure." The Romance says, "This world is a benevolent place." The Arrows mock such naivete, warning us, "Just watch yourself -- disaster is a moment away." The Romance invites us to trust. The Arrows intimidate us into self-reliance.
This book is about the adventure of living out the Romance. It encourages you to think about your higher calling, to listen to your heart. It reminds you that your life does have meaning.
I like this sentence, which puts perspective on hard times:
God is so confident in the good that he is willing to allow our adversary latitude in carrying out his evil intentions for the purpose of deepening our communion with himself.
The overarching message of the book is this:
We are the sons and daughters of God, even more, the Beloved, pursued by God himself.
What an amazing calling!