The traditional symbol for heart is, of course, this: ♥
Even though the real human heart looks nothing like that.
My guess is that this symbol, a stand-in for the word love, is the most easily recognized and most-used shape in America.
We see bumper stickers that read I ♥ (fill in the blank) such as NY, my Border Collie, or mountain climbing. Symbolic onscreen confetti hearts flow when you love something on Facebook. Our kids display their affection by making us heart-shaped construction paper cards in kindergarten.
We take photos of ourselves making hearts with our hands, and we see hearts in nature.
Some of my friends have seen hearts in the foam of their caffe latte.
There is a whole website devoted to the heart emoji to help us express the exact type of love we’re feeling.
We use compassionate phrases such as, “My heart goes out to you.” In happy times we say, “My heart was bursting with joy.” In grief and loss, we describe ourselves as being broken-hearted. Feeling fear, we offer up, “My heart was in my throat.”
I think we’re in love with hearts. That would be: We ♥ ♥♥♥.
The word heart is used over a thousand times in the Bible, as in “Create in me a clean heart, oh God.”
Marcus Borg’s book The HEART of Christianity reminds us that in the Bible, the heart is a metaphor for the self at its deepest level—our spiritual center. God’s purpose is for us to live our lives with open hearts; to be compassionate, kind, and loving people.
Borg’s own examples of open-heartedness include those above as well as being alive to wonder, remaining grateful, and maintaining a passion for justice for all people.
The author makes the point that closed-heartedness can be termed (from the Greek) sklerokardia – a hardening of the heart.
We can believe that people who commit truly horrific acts of violence, hatred, and greed are the best examples of hard-heartedness. But Borg is clear that this type simply represents one end of the spectrum; there are other ways of being hard-hearted that are not so extreme.
Consider this: What behaviors, acts, or words do we use when we’re being hard-hearted? We may display impatience or simply want our own way. Maybe we’re unwilling to truly listen to someone with a different viewpoint than our own. Our hard-heartedness could show up in our labeling or name-calling of another person even if that happens only inside our heads. It’s looking away from someone with a physical or mental disability. It’s being too busy, too involved with our own lives, to be mindful of the world around us. When we’re critical or sarcastic, that’s our hard-heartedness on display.
The evidence of hard-heartedness in my life may not be the same as in yours. It’s up to each of us to identify and replace our closed heart with an open heart.
I ♥ that idea.