Wednesday, September 30, 2009

B&W, W&O Ch. 1 - The Mind, the Heart & Mystery

In the Beginning...

oops. wrong book. sorry. ;)

Let's see....ah, yes, here we are:

The book starts with the word 'mystery'. In the West, it's a puzzle, something to be solved. Something that we (or if not us) someone can figure out the answer to, making it not a mystery anymore. In the East, he says, it 'lies at the heart of the Eastern Orthodox experience of God.' A mystery, to him, is 'an area where the human mind cannot go, where the heart alone makes sense - not by knowing, but by being.' The actions of God that have 'specific, decisive, and eternal significance' on the lives of those who take part in them are called 'mysteries' in the East. So, what I (and the Catholic Church) would call a Sacrament is termed 'Holy Mystery' in the Orthodox Church.

The Mysteries are meant to lead us deeper and deeper into the Mystery which is the presence of God Himself. They aren't experienced as mental exercises or are the participants emotions of any particular significance. As the author says, 'Participating in the Mysteries is an encounter with God in a very intimate and direct way. As nearly as I can put it into words, such an encounter brings thinking and feeling to a halt, albeit briefly.' He compares it to looking at something of extreme beauty or being in a life or death situation. Something deeper and more profound that thought is engaged. The 'fathomless state of awareness that exists, yet lies hidden and dormant, in all human beings.' The heart (he also uses the word nous interchangeably).

One of the consequences of the Fall, he states, is a fragmentation, disintegration and estrangement of the human. People and the world they live in were 'torn apart by their behavior, and vast gaps came to exist between God and man, between heaven and earth, between one person and another, between the genders, and finally even within the human personality itself....Fragmentation within the human personality is...the division between the mind and the nous(heart).'

*Without* quoting the entire first chapter, which I feel I am in serious danger of trying to do, Webber establishes that the mind is ascendant in human beings, and this a problem because the mind is the most effected by the Fall. The mind runs constantly, even when we're not deliberately using it. Even when we're asleep. A person lives with a running commentary because the mind insists on asserting itself and it's existence. The mind is an emotive addict - it creates emotions so they can be manipulated - it enjoys this. The mind cannot live in the *now*, because the now doesn't have any context to it, yet. So the mind lives in the past (memory) and the future (fantasy). It takes these and judges the now. Out mind labels everyone and everything that we see. He actually suggests an exercise - try sitting somewhere and people watching (don't make the people uncomfortable...) and *not* labeling them, at all. Even the most innocuous of labels - just watch. Try and silence your mind.

He says it's harder than you'd think - inevitably some thought intrudes, even if the thought is 'look how good I am at sitting quietly and not thinking!'.

The *heart*, on the other hand, exists in a perpetual and eternal state of now, of stillness. It doesn't judge, it simply exists - which is why the mind over rides it all the time.

The goal, then, is to get down into the stillness of the heart, past all the chatter of the mind. It's only in that stillness that we can get close to God and begin healing the damage that was wrought. And, of course, the Mysteries (or Sacraments) are the means to learn to get to this point.


  1. Sounds like an interesting book. I don't know a lot about the Eastern Orthodox church, but I remember from the little my theology prof talked about it last semester, I wanted to learn more.

  2. Oooo this book sounds fun. This is a similar idea to that of the concept of enlightenment in Buddhism. One must quiet the mind to truly hear the soul.

    This might go on my list for the sheer fact that it wants to tackle the philosophical concept of Being and not Being.

  3. Interesting!!!!!!! I totally related and agreed about the mind and its constant state of going, going, going! I may try that exercise he suggested one day.

    Not sure I agree about the heart though. Hmmm. Is this why people say "follow your heart"? But what about Scriptures teaching of the heart being "desperately wicked" and out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (see Mt. 12:34,35 and Luke 6:45.) I hope this author isn't saying our hearts are basically good (I didn't get that impression so far...just saying) because he would be contradicting Jesus'words.

  4. Sanil,

    So far it's very interesting. Eastern Orthodox theology is definately different from anything that came out of the west.

  5. LK,

    I think that's what he's getting at, yes. :)

    I did really like Buddhism a couple years back...

  6. Susanne,

    First, I'd like to point out that all the things we'd say belong to the 'heart' - emotions, feelings, etc. Are according to the author, of the mind. The mind thinks, the mind feels. The heart does neither. I think, though I could be incorrect, that the 'heart' he speaks of is closer to out being, or soul, than what we normally think of when we say 'heart'.

    Second, where do the Scriptures say the heart is 'desperately wicked'? I ask because I don't recall that verse off the top of my head, and I like to read the context of a verse to understand it.

    Third, I looked up both verses you mentioned. Both of them don't seem to say that what flows from the heart is necessarily wicked. In Matthew 12, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, here's what it says:

    "34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him."

    And Luke 6:

    "43 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks"

    Neither of which says that what comes from your heart is automatically evil. Both say that a good person will produce good things - their heart will overflow with goodness and that will spill out of their mouths. And ditto for an evil person. Both assume that there are people whose heart is good, and people whose heart is evil. This sort of precludes automatic depravity of the heart just for being human.

  7. "Both assume that there are people whose heart is good, and people whose heart is evil."

    Yes, I agree. I saw that as well from those NT verses. My point -- sorry I wasn't clear -- was that the heart isn't just "there" as it seems the author of the book said. According to Jesus the HEART is where good and bad comes from, but I see you explained what the author meant by "heart" vs. what Jesus said. Thanks for that. :)

    The verse I mentioned is from Jeremiah 17:9. Another interesting one is Romans 7:24.

  8. Susanne,

    Oh good, cause I was thinking we were reading two *really* different things there for a minute. :)

    Thanks for the references.


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