What is a Heart?

A conversation over instant message begins with:

A: What’s worse than losing your mind?
B: Death.
A: How about a heart turning to stone?
B: That’s death

I began with an inquiry on the expression “heart of stone”. With the approach of Mother’s Day, I wanted to have a heart-to-heart connection with my mom. I felt the distance between Hawaii and Los Angeles has created a permanent rift between us, and especially since I’ve never been good at initiating a phone call. During the times I tried, I couldn’t have a conversation with her because of the blare of her television. “Mom, turn down the TV”. “What?!” I’m afraid my mom’s heart has turned to stone. She lives alone, and she’s old. Ever since my father died, I think she’s walled off her heart.

This is my idea about the heart. It’s the engine that drives life literally and figuratively. In the literal sense the brain is the “control” center akin to the operating system of the computer. It regulates the body’s optimal homeostasis and gives the commands to the organs and glands to do their jobs. If there is an imminent threat I need to get away from then my brain tells my adrenal gland to give my body a little extra boost of adrenalin. So the gland drops a dose of the adrenalin into my blood stream, and my heart pumps the blood through the rest of my body. At the same time this flow of the blood removes toxins and other byproducts from the respiration of the cells. With every exhale the impurities are taken away. Every breath in and out is a cycle of life.

So that’s the mechanics of the heart. The heart is referenced with a breadth and depth linguistically in the Romantic and Germanic languages. The heart is the container of our emotional life. It is the motor of our motivations and aspirations. We use heart in our language that expresses our soul, spirit and our body.

If my “heart is not into it” then I either won’t do it or I do it badly.

If I don’t get the “heart of the matter” then I am missing the essence or the point.

If my “heart stood still” then I could either have been frightened that I catch my breath or I’ve been hit by a bolt of love at first sight.

If I’m “disheartened” then I’ve lost my spirit for something that I once had courage for. There’s the Latin origin of heart “Coeur” in courage. To be lion-hearted is to be brave and courageous.

When I say, “Don’t play with my heart” then I’m asking you to please be gentle with me.

I saw a production of Beth Henley’s play, Crimes of the Heart, at the Rubicon Theater in 2010. I savored that scene between Babe Botrelle and Barnette Lloyd in the kitchen where she describes how she shot her husband because she didn’t like his looks. The thrust of those words stood for her anger at her husband’s cruelty because of her affair with a 15 year old black teenager. After shooting him in the stomach, she made a big pitcher of ice-cold lemonade which she drank thirstily while he bled and moaned asking her to call for help. Out of her customary politeness she offers him a glass of lemonade – the whole thing executed with an absence of mind. In a 1998 review by Jamie L. Jones in the Harvard Crimson, he noted that:

It should not surprise audiences of Crimes of the Heart to learn that Babe Botrelle did not kill her husband when she shot him (she aimed for his heart but hit his stomach): she’s a good Southern woman, after all, and among the other myths she heard about men and women, she undoubtedly learned that “the only way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

It’s fascinating how the heart in language to represent the real, intangible and yet powerful aspects of our persona.

Going back to a heart turning to stone, I researched that the leading cause of death for women (short term and long term( is aortic aneurism where there is an abnormal bulge in the wall of the artery (the artery being the largest artery in the body). Medically, what can cause aortic aneurysms are (source: www.webmd.com):
• Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which weakens arterial walls.
• Hypertension (high blood pressure).
• Local injury to the artery.
• Congenital abnormality. A number of conditions, such as Marfan syndrome or bicuspid aortic valves are present at birth and can cause weakness of the artery walls.
• Aging
• Syphilis used to be a common cause of thoracic aneurysms, but it is no longer as common

Could a long-term psychological-emotional trauma of a heartache lead to a heart of stone in its fullest sense. An emotional wound that won’t heal could render a person to choose to stop feeling their feelings as a protection, and so they become cold and unfeeling. There is a medical condition called Calciphylaxis. In Wikipedia, it cites that ‘a severe calciphylaxis can cause diastolic heart failure from cardiac calcification, called “heart of stone”.’ Also from the same source: Calciphylaxis can result from “chronic non-healing wounds and is usually fatal. Calciphylaxis is a rare but serious disease.”

Women tend to have a longer life span than men. Imagine generations of women whose husbands or boyfriends have died in the war, natural causes, illnesses or accidents. Some women succumb to the grief. It’s been 14 years since my father died. Since 2001, every year, my mother still prays novenas and holds masses for his death anniversary and birthdays. She carries a vial containing his ashes wherever she travels. I’ve stopped asking why she does it, because she responds with a sigh that sounds like I’ve treaded into private territory. Whether she does it from a sense of duty or the ritual of honoring their marriage, I feel she hasn’t allowed herself to move past the grief. I don’t mean for her to “get over it”, because that sounds like it is nullifying the sacrament of their marriage. Though I wonder if she still carries the torch for her departed beloved.

There is also the biblical aspect from the book of Ezekiel on the heart of stone:

Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land which I gave to your ancestors, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:22–28)

With the guidance of Jeffrey Keuss in understanding this scripture, he breaks it down to the Word of God (or the Hebrew word Rûaḥ which means the Breath or Spirit of God) which brings life to the inanimate stone.

as God breathed his spirit (rûaḥ) upon creation at the beginning of all things, this same spirit will remove that which is inanimate stone and bring life where once there was death. As deep calls out to deep, the same breath that blows away stone will reside as a living spirit to animate and enliven. This much is clear: bones come together in Ezekiel 36, but they don’t live until the spirit is breathed on them. It is the Spirit of God that animates, and it will also be the Spirit that preserves, redeems, and restores.

I ask these questions of myself that were suggestions from the same posting:

In Hebrew culture, having a “heart of stone” means that the core of one’s being is lifeless. What are parts of modern life that leave you feeling as if you are experiencing a “hardening of heart?” Conversely, in what ways have you experienced the rûaḥ of God breathing new life in creation of a “heart of flesh?”

Jeffrey Keuss is a professor at Seattle Pacific University.

I know my Mom has the heart of a woman, the heart of a mother and the heart of a human being. She is warm and tender and full of love. In writing about this I see now that this has been a season for me where I’m trying to put life where I feel I’ve stagnated. From my last blog Lilac Time I shared that I am feeling a dead end with my corporate job. My heart ache is not having the title of “Writer” in my Linkedin profile. I love Nancy Beverly’s profile. Flat out “Writer”. I wondered if anybody’s put down “Mother”. That resume of work experience and aptitude would be at the top of the list of the most desirable people to work with. (Maybe not everyone would agree.)

But within the last 10 minutes of writing this post I bought tickets to fly to Hawaii on my mother’s birthday which falls on Memorial Day this year, May 25th. It’s my chance to make a heart-to-heart connection with her, and I can turn down the volume of the TV myself.

4 thoughts on “What is a Heart?

  1. Courageous is to speak of matters concerning the most important part of existence – our heart. Loved this piece — you integrated research with mindfulness wherein you are provoking or placing a spot light on the most important part of being human – our hearts.
    It felt like you took me on your journey into your hour of contemplative prayer,”our private, self-made worlds come to an end; a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience,” Thomas Keating wrote in “Open Mind, Open Heart.”
    “Yet the world that prayer reveals is barely noticeable in the ordinary course of events.”

  2. I love this article, Analyn, it’s profound. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23” One reason to forgive is to guard our hearts because it really is about us and not the person who offended us – lest our hearts become hardened or we lose heart. We must even forgive ourselves when we feel we are not “there” yet; we must encourage ourselves and start/continue/re-ignite the process to move to “there”. Ezekiel is my favorite book in the bible; I am kin to him; he is kin to me.

  3. Another beautiful and heartfelt 🙂 post. And what a pleasant surprise to see my name near the end — thanks for that. Be well.

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