Intimacy & the Priority of the Heart

Surprising though it may sound to some readers, I feel like, over the past six months, I have had something of a personal revolution. It is a revolution of the heart, in more ways than one.

About six months ago I was exposed to a couple of lectures by an Episcopal priest and church historian named Ashley Null. Null’s area of expertise is the theology of Thomas Cranmer, including the latter’s late medieval influences (such as Richard Rolle, Erasmus, and Lady Margaret Beaufort). Null points out that during this time in the history of England, waves of Gospel revival were washing up onto the shores of England.

Folks during this time were rediscovering not just Scripture, but how to savor Scripture. How to let the Scripture seep into the soul and to provide comfort, healing, peace, even deep spiritual pleasure. How to let the Scriptures be, for us, “comfortable words.”

It is in this context, Null points out, that Cranmer came to embrace and to promulgate a maxim which apparently originated with that disciple of Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchthon. The maxim is this: “What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.

How did this maxim prompt a “revolution of the heart” in my own life? Somehow, I feel that God used it—together with several other things happening in my life at around the same time—to allow me to experience intimacy with God. All I can say is that I began to experience intimacy with God in a new way, right about the same time that I had this “discovery.”

You see, despite many years of struggle to gain clarity on such matters, not until a few months ago did I really understand the priority of the heart, and why it matters for the Christian life. Recently I have been putting it like this: God wants to satisfy our desires. God wants to satisfy our desires, not through food or sex or strong drink or entertainment or vacations. God wants to satisfy the desires of our heart, rather, through intimate communion with him.

It is the strangest thing. Strange both in its simplicity and at times in its evasiveness. It is strange that I did not really “get” this until the ripe old age of 45!

I have noticed two primary qualities which are connected to this newfound intimacy with God. The first is that, based on my experience, I can say that intimacy with God is almost the same thing as intimacy with myself. I have been reminded of the words of St. Augustine, that God is “closer to me than I am to myself” (interior intimo meo, see Confessions III.6.11). Somehow, over the past few months, as I have been spending time with God in a new way, I have also been spending time with myself in a new way.

The second quality which has accompanied this newfound intimacy is the return of childlike wonder. The experience of a childlike enjoyment of “mundane” reality, of simply existing, or being embodied, or breathing. Simply being a creature of God, always in relationship with God, is the absolute antithesis to boredom.

“What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies” shows us the priority of the heart over the will and the mind. This is how God made us. We are fashioned for intimate communion with him. That the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to thwart and ruin this intimacy is a painful near-tragedy. And yet, greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.

For you and for me, intimacy awaits.

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