Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Listen to the loons

Bulletin board (lots of juicy dirt in there for the close reader)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” --Proverbs 4:23

When I was in high school, this verse was a favorite to throw at us adolescent girls. I’ve written about it before, but it’s one of those pieces of Scripture that get under your skin and wiggle around in there. It’s a verse that continues to drive me crazy. Especially because it was written by Solomon, the author of the world’s greatest erotic love poem, and the husband to 1000 wives. Maybe that’s why he could guard his heart. You don’t have to give it to anyone when you have a grand to pick from.

I have this feeling that when the youth pastor or the guest speaker of the week said, “guard your hearts, girls,” what they really meant was, “guard your vaginas.” (Oops. Am I allowed to use the V-word on a blog with a Bible verse in the masthead? Too late now.)

I wish they had spent more time focused on the second part of that verse, which raises so many more interesting questions, questions that can only be answered by Hebrew exegesis. My grandfather did vast amounts of Greek exegesis, but Christians never seem to mess with Hebrew. In my linguistic mind it resembles Thai, an utterly alien language without a whole lot of pronouns or prepositions, a language that requires vastly more interpretation in its translation. What did Solomon mean by heart? By wellspring? By life? What did those words mean in ancient Israel? I barely know what they mean now.

It’s interesting, too, how the verse was aimed at women rather than men when I was growing up. The implication was that women needed to guard their hearts more because they were more in danger of giving them away. What’s ironic is that the verse comes in the explicit context of a son receiving advice from his father, in a book of the Bible where the only female characters are the personification of wisdom (chapter 3), the idealized wife (chapter 31) and a whore (chapter 2). Solomon may have been a man who didn’t put a whole lot of stock in the female perspective.

Nonetheless, it’s in the canon. That means I have to take it seriously, right? Even a verse written by someone who celebrated the joys of extramarital sex? I’m glad to think seriously about it because it details so clearly the peril and confusion of relationships in the modern evangelical church. We’re taught by Jesus to hold our hearts open, to love our neighbors as ourselves. But we’re told by Solomon to guard our hearts, to close them down. The way it plays out in most denominations is that we’re supposed to close our hearts to the wrong ideas, and open our hearts to the right ones--namely, the ones from our denomination. Close our hearts to the wrong people, open our hearts to the right ones--namely, the ones from our church, our youth group, our cultural background.

That closed, guarded heart carries over when it comes to things like yoga or tai chi--Eastern mystical traditions that seem to tap into something larger and more beautiful than ourselves, but that Christians continue to insist must be demonic, occultish. I was explicitly taught in middle school that yoga was Satanic, an ingrained attitude that continues to obstruct my yogic progress. I keep wondering: what if they’re right? What if I’m going to hell? What if I should be guarding my heart?

When what that little voice inside of me keeps suggesting (and I know I’m going to lose a bunch of Christian readers here) is that the chi, the prana, and the Holy Spirit are all the same thing. Paul says: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.” (Romans 1:23) Even Heraclitus spoke of the “ever-living fire.” It makes simple sense that others created in God’s image would have found ways to seek out His Spirit. I happen to believe that the only reason we have access to the chi is because of the person of Jesus Christ, and that’s because I am a Christian. But I’m not going to call the spirit of God that others have connected to a demon. Especially when those others (I’m looking at you, Gandhi) seem to bear evidence in their very being of a connection to God, of a real and present love, when the Western church continues to be mired in greed and gluttony and violence.

It comes back to the question of love. The question of how I’m supposed to love everyone, fully and completely, while I guard my heart. How can I love if I’m keeping my heart guarded?

I keep finding Christian girls in bad relationships, Christian women in bad marriages, because they still haven’t asked themselves this question. They’re busy keeping their hearts guarded against anything that might spank of bad theology (say, that God believes that men and women are equal in His eyes), while they’re loving the ever-living fire out of their husbands to the point where they have nothing left of themselves. They’ve dissolved the integrity of their beings into this concept of love without having ever thought about what it means.

I haven’t even got back to Solomon’s wellspring of life, which is where I actually think things get interesting, but this post has gone on long enough. Maybe tomorrow. Today I’ve managed to successfully anger (or at least bore) every single person reading. Believe it or not, these are things I think about every single day. So I may as well write about them. Isn’t honesty a part of love, too?


kolinko said...

Still here and still reading. No answers, but it's good stuff to ponder. A while ago at church, one of the woman pastors preached on this verse. She likened the 'guarding' part to a screen door. I remember really liking her interpretation, but I can't remember more of her point. :)

Melissa said...

Thanks Roni! I always worry about making people angry--but my goal this year is to really tell the truth about what I believe.

Magrat said...

Its wonderful what thoughts arise when entering into the statements and verses that people have used to frighten and hit over the head, to see what the verse actually says. This was a great read, thank you for sharing your thoughts and blog! No, not scared off :-)
What you wrote brought to mind the idea of the speck and plank in the eye; that out of fear, people focus on the distant speck in someone else's life rather than the closer plank in their own. Maybe when we see people living with open hearts when we ourselves are not, we find excuses to keep our hearts closed and protected instead of making the effort to live with open hearts ourselves.

Melissa said...

Great thought about closed and open hearts, Magrat. I do think it's really true, and it's so much easier to live life with a closed heart and find biblical justification for that.