Let's talk about heads and hearts

I'm not quite sure why I was thinking about my own faith development as I was washing my hair in the shower this morning, but for whatever reason, I started retracing my path through churches and congregations and formative faith experiences and my own shifts and trends in my "faith-personality," should such a thing exist.

For me, faith has been something that has always bounced around between head and heart. Depending on my stage in life, I've leaned into headier and heartier seasons of faith, and it is interesting to me to look back and see what was fulfilling for a season, and what came up short.

As a kid, and probably well into my teenage years, faith was a pretty neutral thing. It was heart insomuch as I believed in God with an earnestness that only children can muster, and it was head insomuch as I was learning stories and collecting information about God. It wasn't an emotive faith, nor was it intellectual. It was simply a childhood faith, where learning about God and getting excited about going to Sunday School was no different than learning about books or science and getting excited by going to the library.

Into middle school and high school, I think that I retained some of this "childish" quality to my faith. Not in a bad way at all, mind you. I appreciate that my life afforded me the ability to hold onto a simple faith for so long. I grew more convicted during this time, about faith and about many other things, the way that all people do in adolescence. You start to define yourself all on your own, and hold tightly to the things that you care about. Faith was one of my BIG THINGS in life, as much as was writing poetry, being a good student, and thinking that my sense of humor was incredibly grown-up and witty.

It took me until college to start treating my faith in God as less of a "given" and more of a conscious choice or awareness. And when I started considering faith as something conscious, I also started navigating the divide between head and heart. As I joined Christian organizations on campus and grew to make friends who came from different styles and church backgrounds, I came to the realization that my faith, if I had to give it a location, was squarely in my head. It was a big and odd identity crisis for me. Because knowing in my head that I trusted God and the Bible to be true things was very different than having the moving, emotive, almost mystical sensations of God that many of my friends had experienced. And knowing or trusting God suddenly didn't seem to be enough.

I tried and tried to shove my faith down from brain to heart. I tried doing morning devotions where I'd leave myself time in silence to try to compel God to say something to me, either in voice or through divine gut instinct. I went to alternative worship services and tried different postures for praise and prayer. I tried to read my Bible more, journal more, and think way less about what I was reading and writing. I'm not sure if I just expected the Spirit to grab and guide my hand or what. I tried drawing my faith into more and more life decisions, even some ridiculously small ones, thinking that I would experience God more if I just channeled him more often.

Let me tell you. My attempts to emotionalize my faith failed miserably. I know that I felt good about them at the time. But if you go back to my journals from college, it's pretty embarrassing. I mistakenly believed that experiencing God had to be something emotion-driven, and that the only way to let God lead was by getting my brain out of the way. And in the process, I just ended up sounding even more naive than my previously simple faith...and far more desperate. Not good desperate. My college understanding was that having a heart-bound faith was all about connecting with God on an emotional level.

Then I decided to go to seminary. Well, if we're going to be exact here, I'm probably better off saying that I followed a strange and undefined sense of call to seminary. And a seminary that encouraged and lifted up the intellectual side of faith. I was in heaven. (Well, except for being lonely because my boyfriend-turned-fiance-turned-husband lived far away from me, and working harder than I've ever worked to keep up in my challenging classes, and muddling through the process of figuring out that, hey, maybe God is calling me to be a pastor and what does that mean for me and my future...)

But the intellectual stuff was great. I adored systematic theology, because it meant reading and thinking and processing faith according to logic and philosophy. I was heartened to learn that there were plenty of folks over the centuries who had delved deeply into their brains to make sense of faith. I'm pretty sure I dropped my college "faith is emotive" act within my first week of classes. It was refreshing to feel like I was among friends, among others who, like me, let faith sit up in their brains, and didn't feel any shame or regret about it.

I loved learning about the intricacies of scripture and the history of its interpretation. I exercised a thinking faith with wild abandon, perhaps to the point of pushing my faith to an arm's length in order to indulge my headiness. I was probably more excited about faith and church during seminary than I'd ever been at any other point in life, but kept pretty detached from the personal side of my faith during that time.

Since seminary, and through my pastoral experiences on internship and now in these first two congregations that I have served as a pastor, I'm starting to come around to another new stage in my faith life. And this is where we get to my hair-washing epiphany.

I'm a logical, reasoned person. That's just my personality. I like to be organized, I like when things make sense and are consistent. I enjoy patterns and routines. And that affects how I approach my faith. I look for themes, I try to piece together large and consistent generalizations about who God is and how God works, I appreciate the logical flow of the liturgy and the church year, and I keep constructing for myself a nicely-bounded understanding of my own theology.

In practice, however, I'm coming to realize that my faith is far more heart than it is head. But in a very different way than in college.

I'd always assumed that to have a heart-based faith, it meant that your heart is how you knew and understood God. But maybe that's not how it works.

I look at the world, and my heart pours itself out. My faith drives me to look differently at my neighbors, and to desire deep peace and harmony and hope. My faith drives me to see the cracks in our shared life on this planet, and makes me more aware of greed, self-interest, and waste. I feel deep compassion for all who hurt, and not just the good guys. And so it dawned on me this morning that my faith is truly a heart-based entity.

Just instead of my heart being where I expect to know God for my own sake, my heart is actually where God calls my faith into action and being. I used to think that a heartfelt faith was all about me and God, all for my sake. Now I see that a heartfelt faith is actually all about the world and God, and how those things happen to intersect in my own being. Heart-faith isn't about my disposition toward God. It's about my disposition toward the world.

And this, perhaps, is how (at least in this season), my head and my heart are making peace with one another. What I know about God in my head filters its way through my heart and out into the world. And it's not an either-or. It's a both-and. Both head and heart. A new brand of simplicity that is no longer childish or untested, but is instead a straight line drawn from knowing to being, from thinking to caring, from head through heart and then out into the world.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, good, good thoughts!! My faith has also shifted - from facing inward (how do I feel? what am I doing to follow God?) to gradually turning outward (what has God done? how can I participate in his work through the church?). It's amazing to look back and trace the changes. So I'm not surprised that you had a hair-washing epiphany! A classic place to ponder the depths. :-)