What does it mean for Jesus to live in my heart?
I must admit, I can’t remember how old I was but as folk law often dictates, I remember where I was; sat on the floor in my youth leaders’ house in Liverpool. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what they were thinking, showing this film to us – but what I saw that night helped crystallize some ideas which came to define my faith in my teenage years.
Prisoner Andy Dufresne abuses his privileged access to the wardens’ quarters to play Mozart over the public address system in Shawshank prison where he is serving life for a murder he didn’t commit. The scene sweeps over a vast exercise yard and the inmates stare longingly upwards at the source of this unexpected female voice as her presence resounds throughout the prison.
Upon rejoining his friends after his punishment for this stunt, Andy explains that he does not regret his actions and says, “that’s the beauty of music … they can’t get that from you”. He continues, “there’s something inside that they can’t get to … they can’t touch … it’s yours.”
I, like many other Christians, made the instant connection between the way Andy felt about the transcendent beauty of the music he connected with and the idea of the transcendent God who lives inside my heart. It fitted beautifully with the idea of God as an internal, faithful companion, a kind of talisman, a good angel who allows beauty to dwell inside me. Somehow I, like Andy, would be able to resist the limiting patterns, places, authorities and injustices of the world and get ultimate justice for myself, if only I could train myself to hold onto, leverage this inner God who no-one else could get to or take from me.
But, returning to the movie (*spoiler alert*), when Andy doesn’t emerge from his cell at the proper time one morning, it becomes clear that it is not this musical experience or any other inner meditation which has led to his freedom. His circumstances have been changed by his nightly ritual of digging through his cell wall and emptying it out onto the exercise yard. For years.
Just before he leaves, he puts words to this. “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, eh? Get busy living or get busy dying”.
He knew that there are no neutral patterns. He understood that what we sow ourselves into doesn’t just reveal who we are, it forms who we are becoming. Andy Dufresne knew he would not become a freeman simply by accessing the inner, transcendent place inside, but unless he substituted the hopeless rhythm of prison life with his own rhythm of hope-filled actions, he would be formed by prison into an “institutionalized man” as the character Red often refers to.
Undoubtedly, Andy’s journey was punctuated by transcendent moments but hope was not embedded there. His hope was cultivated late at night, digging at a seemingly endless wall with a spoon.
My suggestion is this. When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment, his answer is emphatic in the highest order. “He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:36). Instead of thinking of “heart … soul … mind … ” as different locations or even different modes of love, what if they are all sides of the same coin? Overlapping terms by which Jesus reinforces that to love God sufficiently, requires all a person has. Everything and 10 times over, from whichever way you look at it.
James Smith follows many other theologians in suggesting “a translation of καρδία (heart) … [which] captures both a sense of bowel-level center of gravity of our identity, as well as the grittiness of its embodiment” (Desiring the Kingdom, page 57). In other words, to the modern mind, to love God with all your heart is to love him from your guts, in a tangible and possibly even grizzly way. It is to love him not just during but via the banal, via the everyday, via the messy, via the boring, via the essential and the mindless – to love him in and with everything you can access.
Smith’s argument continues that the Church is who she is not because of what she believes but because of what she does. We are formed as we love each other, not in abstract, conceptual ways, not because of what we think about each other but as we pay each other’s rent, hold each other’s hands, paint each other’s houses and join together in worship every week to pray and confess together.
I think it is right for us to speak of Jesus living in our hearts. But for it to be really true, we need to recognize that God inhabits our guts, his voice resounds in and through the most unlikely places and that thing you’ve been doing every week for the last however-many years is forming you far more deeply than much else in your life. What does it reveal that your hope is really in?