Part of the maturing of our humanity over time is a growth in psychological and spiritual stability. The writer James Bishop, in his commentary on the Rule of Benedict (A Way in the Wilderness), says stability is all about ‘always aiming to do the right thing without constantly changing our direction’ (105). Committing to the ‘right thing’ is about not ‘chasing every breaking wave’, that is, not ‘constantly changing direction.’
Often our commitments are a heart choice. This, I think, is the choice that Bono is singing about: the heart choice of committing to another person. An early conviction of the heart can, over time, be clouded by fear and doubt. Circumstances of life change, the way we approach life changes. Feelings change. People change. It is only natural that a heart choice is buffeted and challenged by these winds of change.
But what is this heart? Of recent times it has become a symbol for love and feeling. Put these together and it seems that love is only a feeling. In the story of Judaism and Christianity the heart is that mysterious ‘place’ of being deep within us where our divinely inspirited uniqueness resides. In Christianity this heart can also be the place of our deepest longing for love. Ultimately this longing is for God because only this God is the True Love that will fulfill us. That ‘God is Love’, true and unconditional, is the great Christian testimony. Everyone else, including those whom we are in relationship with, is at best a manifestation and humble expression of this True Love.
Being in touch with this heart-place of our deepest identity and longing is of great assistance when it comes to both choosing and keeping heart commitments.
Some questions to ask ourselves while discerning a commitment to another person therefore could be: ‘can I be myself with this person?’ And ‘can I give full expression to my longing for God with this person?’ Heartfelt affirmations to these questions are among the indications that the person concerned is a good fit for us.
Being in touch with this heart is what stabilises us in the commitments we make. Being out of touch with this heart has the potential to destabilise us and our commitments. The question that we keep coming back to while we live this commitment over a lifetime is ‘where is my heart in this commitment?’
Contemplative prayer is about the practice of giving attention to this heart, about staying in touch with this heart. This practice grounds us in the heart of who we are and, ultimately, in the divine. Over time there is developed in us a stability that has its roots less and less in our changeable psychology and circumstance and more and more in the Being of God. This Being is our rock. This Being is our source. This Being is our very life force. From this Being we can commit with divine stability. Christian Meditation is one such contemplative practice.
If what we mean by heart is only feeling, and we believe love to be simply a feeling, then it can follow that when our feelings of love change so does the very nature of our heart commitment. But who we most deeply are and who God is are both beyond feeling. Love is not a feeling. We can have feelings in response to the presence of Love. Just because a feeling has changed is no indication that True Love has‘gone’.
And so we come to the struggle that U2 in this song are embracing:
Heart commitments can be a gamble because at any one time we may not have a good enough sense of where our heart is.
Fear and anxiety can cover the heart preventing our experience of this deep place. Stability in commitment is about staying the course until fear fades and our hearts are recovered.
Like the sea, our inner experience can change quickly. We need to be respectful of this. What is stormy at the surface can be still and calm at the depths. A decision based on the surface of inner experience can leave us shipwrecked.
For the Christian the captain is Jesus Christ. His human and divine consciousness lives at our depths, in our hearts. His ‘voice’, those movements of divine life within can be listened to if we can become still and quiet enough. These movements can guide us to, and sustain us in, our lifetime heart commitments.
To drown, to be so overwhelmed by feelings of fear and doubt, to question everything, even to leave after doing your heartfelt best may be a failure, but it is no sin in the sense that it is not a condemnation of our hearts.
‘You know where my heart is, the same place that yours has been’. Often the experience of instability within a commitment is the journey back to the heart. The heart can be the experience of the original choice for that person, that commitment. Back in touch with this heart we can be ‘swept off our feet’ by the divine life within our heart commitments. Intimacy here is about being in God and bringing God to each other.