by Alice Feeley, RDC
Hearts in reds and pinks are everywhere this week—in candy boxes, bouquets of flowers, jewelry advertisements, cards, designs and decorations. Earlier this month we were urged to wear red in support of heart health.
The Valentine’s Day celebration reminds us of people we care about. A deluge of hearts shape our expectations of how we need to express our love and affection come February 14.
Heart images suggest love; heart language, which is not limited to this time of year, helps deepen what we mean when we link the heart with love. In the 19th century the Foundress of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion encouraged her Sisters who were working day and night with poor, needy street children on the lower East Side of Manhattan, “What would all that we do amount to, unless our hearts went with it?”
Children certainly know about the hearts of those who care for them and teach them—when the heart is present and when it is not.
But the question of our heart involvement in what we do extends beyond our concern for and interaction with children. When we encounter persons whose hearts are not in what they are doing or when we are that person ourselves, we are aware that someone—the customer service rep, the waiter, the lawyer, the salesperson etc.—isn’t really there.
There’s an absence of presence in our encounter. Facial expressions are bored, eye contact is minimal, stress is palpable, we don’t feel listened to or taken seriously. Our “hearts are in it” when we are present to the persons we are with and to whatever we are doing.
Excessive busyness, multitasking, obsessive attention to technological devices can make it more difficult to be present where we are or to know where our hearts are.
Sometimes we can be quick to judge others’ decisions, public policies, business choices, political statements, etc., as “heartless” or as not “having a heart” or as playing on people’s “heartstrings.”
What does the heart represent in these situations?
The Gospel of Matthew sheds light on the connections, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6:21). The heart represents what we value most, what matters to us, who we are. When we use heart language in disparaging ways about others, we assume we know their values. But what about our own? Do we know what our treasure is, what matters to us, and where our heart is?
As a chaplain at a nursing home I have the privilege of witnessing a wordless language of the heart among spouses, adult children and their parents, siblings—all of whom know the heartbreak of having loved ones who are no longer themselves and who, in some cases, no longer recognize their partner, their child, their brother or sister.
In these visits I witness people whose “hearts are in what they do, where they are.”
I witness persons who “bring their hearts” to their encounters with loved ones. In a word, they are fully and faithfully present, finding creative ways to communicate and to share the silences and the confusion, to listen with the heart. They show us the deep possibilities of the heart as we celebrate Valentine’s Day. They show us the deep possibilities of love.