Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
December 24, 2007
Holy Is the
room of the heart
Novelist Gail Godwin has collected some of our most memorable
words about the heart.
"Now that my ladderís gone," Yeats wrote, "I must lie down where
all ladders start / in the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart."
Sounds almost like a manger.
"Give me," prayed St. Francis, "a transformed and undefended
"My heart teaches me night after night," says the psalmist.
"I left my heart in San Francisco," croons Tony Bennett. In what
city is yours?
"Our shared bedroom, my heart," wrote Augustine to God, his
"Work of seeing is done," says the poet Rilke, "now practice
heart-work upon the images captive within you."
"Do you suppose Oz could give me a heart?" The Tin Woodsman asks
Scrooge, a stingy man, works late on Christmas Eve, sends his
underpaid clerk home as late as possible, refuses to make a donation
to the poor, turns down his nephewís invitation to Christmas dinner,
goes home, pulls on his night-cap, slips into bed, and is visited by
ghosts: First his late business partner, Jacob Marley, then the
ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. In the night he is
given a new heart.
Our hearts can turn to stone, but God can write on stone; they
can become "hearts of darkness," but "light shines in the darkness
and the darkness does not put it out."
What is the heart? Carl Jung says, "The utterances of the
heart...always relate to the whole."
The heart is the room of the real self, the true self created in
the image of God. It contains mind and feelings and the will which
chooses what to do. It is also where the imagination dwells. Native
Americans, says Barbara Brown Taylor, speak of "looking twice." The
first time we look we see with our physical eyes and make our
initial judgments. But then we look twice, and with this second
sight see with the eyes of the heart, see at the edge of things what
we may not see at first.
Itís the imagination that lets us take a second look at the world
and see what it truly is and what it might become. As Robert Kennedy
Some...see things as they are and say why? I dream things
that never were and say why not?
The rabbis tell a story of a village wracked by dissension and
ill will. One day a stranger came and gave a prophecy: The Messiah
has come and is one of them! They began to look at each other
with a new eye: "Is Olí Tom the Messiah? Is Rachel? Iíve never
thought much of her." As they began to look for the Messiah in each
other they began to see the divine in each other. And the divisions
and acrimony and long-held grudges were swept away.
Is this not one meaning of this holy night? That since God has
come as a child we might see the God-child in everyone?
Paul spoke of the Christ born in us! "Til Christ be formed
in you" is how he said it. Our bodies filled with the divine, Christ
entering and dwelling in our hearts so that the whole of us, mind,
emotions, will, imagination are transfigured by his light.
I adore the holy incongruity of this night: The holy and human
now wed, the material and the spiritual mingling as one. And I love
all the happy foolish ways we re-enact it in church in liturgy and
pageants, costumes and all. For one night angels are in leotards and
shepherds in tennis shoes. A real mother holds her child as the
Christ child. "Please donít cry Ďtil 8:15," she says, as if Jesus
Christmas pageants always go wrong. Theyíre supposed to. Thatís
their job. Weíre humans trying to act out something divine. It is
comedy, human and divine. Iíve told you the story of Henry, who had
the talent of wrecking every Christmas pageant. One year he set an
angelís wings on fire with his Advent candle. Another year he was
King Herod, and as he stood to give his orders to the Wise Men, he
caught his foot in his robe and toppled head-over-heels down the
stairs of his makeshift throne.
This particular year he was given what was thought to be the
"fail-safe" part. He was the Innkeeper. He was behind the door of
the Inn the whole night with just one line to deliver. When Mary and
Joseph came to the door and knocked heíd open the door and say, "Thereís
no room in the inn!" Six words, thatís all.
When the night came he listened from behind the door, taking it
all in, the wonder of this night. When Joseph knocked he opened the
door and said the line heíd been given to say, even though he hated
to be the one to say it. "Thereís no room in the inn," he forced
out, loudly, perfectly.
Then as Mary and Joseph turned, to leave, he blurted out: "Wait!
Wait! You can have my room!"
The play was effectively over! The End. But Christmas had
happened. Happened in the holy room of the heart.
This past week Iíve listened over and over to James Taylor sing a
familiar carol, and its words old yet new:
What then can I give you,
empty as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would know my part.
What then can I give him?
I must give my heart.