A Simple Heart

Yesterday I attended a lecture at my university.  The guy who was talking is an old friend whom I have known for a dozen years.  It is always nice to have him come to campus and speak to our students.  He has such an interesting and, in some ways, inspiring life that it is good to have every new group of students hear his story.  I have heard his story many times, so it is not novel.  But it is always interesting and inspiring even for me.          

Part of his inspiration is the fact that he has failed three or four times in his life.  Somehow he bounces back and the next chapter seems even better than what he was doing before he failed.  When I talk about his failures, I am mostly talking about business or career failures.  It is not some moral failure.  His story is one of failure, innovation, and reworking what he is capable of doing.             

Many people would probably fail like he does and be done.  They would not only be wiped out financially, but personally.  He talks about being down for a while and, perhaps, even lost.  But there is something in his intrepid spirit that enables him to get back up and move to a new way of being.  If he is successfully doing A, it seems to happen at some point A fails.  And then he figures out a way to move to B.  So many of us never get to B.  He must be on D or E by now!  He is remarkable.           

And he seems so average.  He is not charismatic.  He is not amazing.  What he has done is amazing, but he seems so ordinary.  I know his story and have heard it multiple times and, yet, every time I am moved again.  It is like watching a trick and you never see the magic happen.             

He is not quite as old as I am, but he is significantly older than any student in the audience.  For some years now the most impressive thing I hear him say is that he meditates.  When he says this, it usually falls on deaf ears.  And then he details it.  I meditate an hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening, he claims.  And he says he has been doing it now for forty years!  Maybe that is the trick?           

Most Americans I know are too unbelieving, too busy, too preoccupied to meditate and certainly not with that kind of regimen.  There is no way he would claim that because he meditates, he is thereby innovative.  That is absurd.  But it is equally dangerous to assume his meditation has nothing to do with his innovative ability to land back on his feet and enact a “do over.”           

One thing he said yesterday that seemed new to me was an emphasis on the “heart.”  While he is not against the brain or the mind, somehow the heart was his focus.  He thinks that is the key.  And meditation helps him center---to be heart-full.  I can believe that.  My own Quaker tradition talks about being centered.  My goal as a Quaker is to live each day as nearly as I can from my center.  There is life, energy, equanimity, and even courage.  Maybe meditation would enhance the heart for me.           

His words were with me when I settled in last night to spend some time in Compline, the last of the Benedictine monastic worship periods.  It is usually done right after sunset, not long before bedtime for the monk who might be getting up for the first worship period at 3:15am!  The words from one of the Psalms jumped out at me.           

One of the Psalms being used in Compline was Psalm 86.  In the Benedictine book I was using, a verse midway through Psalm 86 has the Psalmist asking this of God: “Make my heart simple and guileless, so that it honors your name.”  I like to do Compline by myself so that I can pause and savor words like these.  I liked the petition to have my heart made simple.  My heart too often is complex and complicated.  Simplify me, O Lord.  And make me guileless.  I doubt many students know what this word, guileless, means.  It means innocent or, even, naïve.  Such a heart is able to honor God’s name.           

I was curious about the translation, so I checked another translation.  The New Revised Standard Version has the Psalmist asking God to “give me an undivided heart to revere your name.”  This is clearly the same meaning, but I like the way the Jerusalem Bible has it in the first translation.  Make my heart simple.  Make it guileless.  Make me honorable before the Lord and in the world.          

I realized this is the quality my friend has.  He has a simple heart.  He is guileless.  He is not capable of cheating or cutting corners.  He is an honorable man.  All that does not prevent failure.  It has not protected him from that, but it has protected him from lasting anger and resentment.  He has a simple heart.  Simple hearts cannot rage and lash out.           

People with simple, guileless hearts are peacemakers, not makers of messes.  And when his did make a mess of a business, he cleaned it up and moved on to more good stuff.  He is not a hero to me.  But he does model an important quality.  I also want to be given a simple heart.  I think that is a key to a life in the Spirit---a centered life.

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