In the Psalms David utters, “the heart is deep.” St Macarios of Egypt says “the heart is an unfathomable abyss.” The Psalms, the Desert Tradition of Eastern Christianity, the religious existentialists, such as Kierkegaard and Buber, and the 19th century Russian Christians, exemplified by Dostoyevsky and Berdyaev, all speak of the heart’s depth as an abyss that ‘cannot be plumbed.’
Heart depth is what everyone knows but few live.
We do not start deep, we have to be deepened, and depth only comes through a wound.
The Daemonic is God’s wounding of the heart, to deepen it. The Daemonic drives us out of the shallows, where we suffer from a superficial happiness, whether religious or secular, into the existential deeps where we encounter the real suffering of the human condition, and enter the wrestling with it which will be decisive for how we stand or fall in the world, for how we act for or betray our calling to the world.
The deep heart in each of us connects us with the common heart of all humanity, and connects us with the mysterious heart of the world. This last is the ‘existential arena.’ Black Elk calls it “the place where the two roads, the good road and the bad road, cross”; he says “it is the Great Mystery who has made these roads to cross, and the place where they cross is holy.” In Christianity, this place is Golgotha, the desolate waste ground beyond the walls of the city where Christ was crucified.
Jewish-Christian redemption requires the human depth to be fought for so that the depth of the world can be fought for. In Jewish-Christian redemption, the heart is called to a deep place both inside itself and outside itself in the world. Both deep within and deep without is what the heart is ‘fated’ to meet, fated to suffer in, fated to battle with. In Jewish-Christian redemption, the heart is called to a deep place of ultimate import for humanity and for the world.
We all have a shallow heart, dominated by our egotism, phantasy, and emotional demand. The shallow heart is easy. The deep heart comes through a wound, and is a burden. In the depth the heart struggles.
It is God who does this to the human heart. God did it to us even before our creation, for we also partake in the existential mystery of the ‘lamb slain before the world was made.’ Thus, the struggle in the depth is not a consequence of nor a punishment for our fallenness. In the garden of our beginning, the soul [Eve] was pre-eminent, and the heart [Adam] had an untroubled time. That would never have lasted. The way God set up existence [freedom, contingency, and similar ‘existential exactions’], and the evil spirit waiting to dissuade us with the terrible cost of having a heart, determines that existence in the world is and would always have become a real challenge. The question God asks us is, ‘do you want a heart?’ really, it means, ‘will you be deep?’
This is the question God asked Adam immediately after the Fall= where are you? Where do you stand?
Passion is required to fulfil the inner and outer call that God has put on the heart.
Passion is the energy of the heart, its motive and intent, its willingness and self-giving, its spirit of the heart, which steps up and takes on all that God has laid upon us.
The human heart was created to bear the divine heart, and be the divine heart’s representative and engine in the world for the sake of the world. The heart is tied to the world because the heart is called to be the redeemer of the world.
All this can seem like a curse, yet it is a blessing. For it signifies God’s great honouring of, trust and belief in, us.
Christ came to take on the wound and the burden we put down, seeking secular/materialist and religious/spiritual escape; Christ came to undergo the test and prove the deep things of God and of humanity: the divine depth tested and proved in the human depth.
God’s question to us is: will we assume the human depth, and will we assume the divine depth operative in the human depth?
This is a question of terror and beauty, of grief and glory, and it fills the heart with what Kierkegaard called ‘angst’—an apprehension and anguish that subliminally reveals to us the precariousness of the situation we are in and the magnitude of what has been put at risk in this situation. Angst is a choice: do we face it and act, or do we turn away and run? In Psalm 55, 5-6, David calls this stabbing compunction ‘fear and trembling’, and pleads with God to be allowed an exit from the world which is at the same time an exit from the heart; David asks to be allowed to fly up and away, ‘on the wings of a dove.’
But God will not allow this. Uncertainty, trouble, strife and tumult — the whole drama God made of existence because of what is at stake in it — cannot be transcended, left behind, avoided. We flee depth not only in ‘secularist, humanist, materialist’ worldliness, but also in a certain strain of ‘ascetic, mystical, spiritual’ other-worldliness which disfigures every religion.
In Jewish-Christian redemption, the heart is called to a hard place.
In Jewish-Christian redemption, the heart is called to a dark place.
The heart must go to the deep place, in itself; the heart must go to the deep place, in the world.
This is what Christ’s passion did, and what ours, if our heart follows his heart, is called to do.