Exercise the Soul: Heart, Spirit, Mind
He squeezed a brick in his hand. Fire blazed out, water dropped to the floor, and in his hand remained a lump of earth. This is the account made by historians in the fourth century, who observed the debates between Christian bishops. Arius taught that Jesus was a creature, like an angel; holy but not divine. The Church defended its Orthodox faith in the Trinity. After heated discussion, a simple, agrarian bishop stood up. Everyone hushed. He held up the brick. The onlookers witnessed this miracle with astonishment. Then the saint remarked: “There was only one brick, but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there is only one God, but three Persons.”
If you want to love God, you have to know who He is and who you are. God’s triune nature is written in our hearts. Just as God is one and three, a person is one and three. We are made in His image, after all. We are a tripartite union of heart, spirit, and mind. Why does this matter so much? We have to understand ourselves, and what we have got, in order to adore God with all our being.
The Pharisees cornered Jesus one day. They asked him the big question: “Which commandment is the most important?” Like St. Spyridon, Jesus’s answer was short and simple:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your spirit, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
We have to love God in three ways: (1#) - Heart, (2#) - Spirit, and (3#) Mind.
Carl Jung once encountered an Indian Chief. Ochwiay Biano, or Mountain Lake, was his name. This Hopi elder described to Mr. Jung why he was weary of Europeans. “They think with their heads,” he said. Then he pointed to his heart, saying, “We think here.” From an Orthodox perspective, the native chief was not too far off the mark. Yet, we have to understand the heart properly. In modern culture, we associate the heart with feelings and sentimentality. In Holy Scripture, the heart is the center of the inner person. It is the ‘leb’ — in Hebrew — the nucleus, the inner person, which makes all our big decisions.
God promises us: “I will give them one heart…I will remove the heart of stone…and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).
You have all heard of someone who sees the world through rose-tinted glasses, or through dung-tinted glasses. It is a matter of the heart. We process our experiences in our heart and act out because of the condition of the heart.
Do you love God with all your heart? The heart is so deep. St. Macarius explains:
“Within the heart are unfathomable depths. There are reception rooms and bedchambers in it; doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is a workshop of righteousness and of wickedness. In it is death; in it life…[For the Christian] the heart is Christ’s palace; there Christ the King comes to take His rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and He dwells there, walking within it and placing His kingdom there”.
We have to start letting God do His work in our hearts. What are we putting into the heart? What television shows are we watching? What pictures are we looking at? What news do we listen to or company do we spend time with?
I was struck this week when meditating on Psalm 5. If you want a picture of our secular world, you have got it all there. “There is no faithfulness in their mouth. Their inward parts are very wickedness. Their throat is an open sepulcher.” The world has bad breath. It stinks of death and rottenness. We expose ourselves to it, and we wonder why our hearts are not pure. What can we do? We need to re-arrange our lives. We have to change things, make new habits, so that we immerse ourselves, as much as possible, in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your spirit, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.
What about the spirit and the mind? There is not enough time in one sermon to flesh out everything in this verse. It is enough to say that the spirit is our will. When your child is playing football, you say, “Have spirit.” In the same way, we need spirit in our reaching out for God. How do we train our spirits? We practice submission. When we fast, when we tithe, when we teach ourselves to give up a little, to let go, we nurture that muscle inside called spirit. The mind, the nous in Greek, is our organ for perceiving reality. It is a telescope inside us.
What are we thinking about? The Psalter begins: “Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly…but his delight is in the law of the lord, and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.” In the last years of his life, my dad started playing Sudoku. I did not get it at first, but he explained that he did it for mental exercise. He wanted to keep his brain sharp. In the same way, we have to exercise our mind on the Word of God.
St. Spyridon baffled everyone when he held up that brick. One object, three elements. God made us so wonderfully when he put together our souls: with a heart, a spirit, and a mind. This is what He has given us to work with. These are our spiritual muscles. We cannot keep swimming down stream. We cannot live the way a “normal guy” lives. The Christian life is a life of constantly re-examining our lifestyle and exercising the soul. Our television shows, our video games, the company we spend time with, and even our hobbies — all of these are part of it. How can we live lives more intentionally, soaking in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty? This is how we must love God.