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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Map of the Heart

When I stay at my daughter’s house, I am aware there is a rather large map on the wall by my bed.  I like sleeping right next to the entire world!  Obviously, I am old enough to have looked at maps a thousand times.  I have traveled enough to know where most major countries and places in the world can be found.  I know if you look at a map and locate China or Australia, you realize why it takes so many hours in a plane to get to those places.  Maps give us a sense of place.

I have liked maps since I was a kid.  Of course, I grew up in the pre-internet days, so maps were much more prevalent.  Nearly everyone I knew had a map or two in their cars.  I grew up in Indiana.  I knew all the big and little towns in the vicinity.  I was so provincial, I thought Indiana was a rather large place.  I guess it beats Rhode Island, but it is one of the smaller states.  And yet, there were so many places I could never locate until I checked the map.  Maps seemed necessary to know where you were at in relation to every other place.

My world expanded.  College was in another state and graduate school was in yet a third state.  A fellowship took me to Germany for a year.  I certainly appreciated the availability of maps that year.  I only knew where I was at because my place was in relation to other places.  If you are in Munich, the map shows you were in southern Germany.  If you were heading to Paris, the map showed you to head northwest and be prepared for a few hours in the car or train.

My world expanded even more.  I traveled all over Europe.  Maps were especially helpful for the smaller countries.  I spent one summer in Israel on an archaeological dig.  Because of maps, I began to get a much better geographical sense of the biblical history.  It is only when I approached Masada in the Dead Sea area, I realized you always went “up” to Masada.  Further travels to China, India, Brazil and other places enabled me to find my place on much of the whole map hanging on my daughter’s wall.

I laugh when I spot a cache of maps in my car.  I know I transferred those maps from the old car that I traded in---now years ago---for my current model.  I laugh even more when I realize I have not looked at one of those “real maps” for years!  They are like relics in an automotive sanctuary!  I never look at them because I always check the phone.  Google or some other app will show and talk me to wherever I want to go.  Checking a “real map” would only be quaint.

Thinking about maps caused me to realize maps have been spiritualized.  It is possible to talk about spiritual terrain, spiritual paths, spiritual destinies and so forth.  Spiritual directors might help us “map out” a way to grow spiritually in directions we want to grow.  Spirituality has a kind of topography.  We talk about spiritual mountaintop experiences and the inevitable desert places---inevitable if we practice spirituality long enough.

Reflecting this way led me to think about a map of the heart.  By this I obviously don’t mean some cardiologist’s MRI of my physical heart.  I am thinking about a map of the heart, which would show anyone who wants to consult the map the good directions to go if you want to arrive at some place specific.  Let me give an example.

Let’s say one of our goals is to have a loving heart.  I think this is something people who are spiritually mature have managed---their hearts become loving like the heart of Jesus or the Buddha became loving hearts.  But I also am sure---based on my own experience---that I don’t naturally and normally get a loving heart.  That requires some spiritual mapping---mapping of the heart.  There are a few pat markers on the way to having a loving heart.  We have to see the “other” as a child of God---created in the image of God just like we are.  I know Jesus told us to love the neighbor as ourselves.  That sentence is easy to type and difficult to live out.

I get to this kind of heart by passing through predictable places on the way. For instance, I think it is impossible to love thy neighbor if we have not learned to love our own self.  And I suspect there are some roadmaps to do that.  These roadmaps would include some psychological stops, as well as some spiritual stops. 

I am pretty confident we never get to have a loving heart if we do not spend a little time going through the land of forgiveness.  I know I am not perfect and no one I know claims to be perfect.  This lack of perfection proves to be a breeding ground for mistakes, sins and other kinds of trouble.  If I don’t learn to negotiate the land of forgiveness, I don’t think I will ever get to the loving heart.

As I play around with the image of a map of the heart, I realize it helps me think about things in a fresh way.  But I also realize there is a trick.  The trick is not to assume because I know the map, I know everything about places on the map.  The map in my daughter’s room proves this to be true.  I know exactly where Antarctica is, but I have not been there.  So I have no experience of that southern-most place. 

The same is also true about spiritual places of the heart.  To know what they are is not the same thing as being there and experiencing.  Time for a spiritual trip!

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