In one of the more moving and powerful essays I have read in some time, Gerard Van der Leun gives us a glimpse of the heart–not merely the warm, affectionate, tender place we normally associate with that term, but also its dark recesses, the hidden caves and dank caverns where, were we to be honest, far more of our lives are lived then we would ever care to admit. For the heart, we are quick to believe, is a place of genuine goodness, occasionally tainted by weakness or a justifiable self-interest, small dark clouds in an otherwise seamless blue sky. But the truth, were it to be known, is that there lies within our hearts a darkness, an energy both powerful and driving, which rules and dominates our lives, disguised but by a thin veneer of social acceptability and pretentious purity.
We live our lives thinking highly of ourselves and less of others, bestowing upon them our graces and gifts like laurels tossed from the train of a conquering king, each leaf a precious symbol of our goodness and generosity. Yet in the darkest hours of night, were we receptive to truth, we would hear the demons of our souls arise to carry on their conversations, revealing the true motives of our heart and the vacuities of our virtue.
To make a change of which Gerard speaks so eloquently is not a work of the will, nor of the intellect, nor the virtuous fruit of some project of self-improvement: it is in fact a work of grace. It is a grace which begins in that most difficult of visions: the ability to see ourselves honestly, without charade or deceit, to stare unblinking into the dark heart which dwells within.
I have known of the hatred of which he speaks: an energy so forceful as to terrify a sane man–but sanity is not the lens by which our hatred is viewed. For we, so discerning and perceptive about the simple and superficial, lose all ability to distinguish love from hatred, righteousness from brutality. We have lost the capacity–if indeed we ever had it–to discern that which is true from that which is deceit, and transform our very demons into something most desirable.
We look with great condescension upon those poor souls drinking screw-top wine from brown paper bags, or mainlining some medicinal salvation through oft-used needles. Yet we ourselves are addicts, each of us: addicted to the power which hatred gives us over those who have harmed us, whether in reality or in perception. There is in our inner rage a rush, a high, an intoxicating euphoria which provides great pleasure even while it destroys our souls and poisons our spirits. We lust for more, our minds transformed through chemicals no less powerful than those purloined from pushers, feeding our addiction with ever-spiraling fantasies of destruction and revenge upon the object of our wrath.
To change–to find release from these strong chains which bind us to hopelessness and hatred–is one of life’s true miracles. For there is no formula, no therapy, no mood-enhancing medication which can bring about this metamorphosis: we must, by grace, see those whom we hate with another eye. It is an eye which sees the deep wounds inflicted by another upon us, yet which sees as well those wounds we ourselves have inflicted. It is an eye which remembers the treasured things, those good things, which fostered the depth and richness of relationship which, in true irony, became such fertile ground for hatred and harm. For to open the heart to love is to expose it to grave danger, for only in the transparency of the heart can such severe wounds be suffered.
Yet when that brokenness takes place, that surrender which hands over the sword of revenge in return for the white flag of forgiveness, there comes a peace, a transformation, a healing which brings the soul one step closer to that ephemeral thing we call wholeness. There is, to be sure, a necessary loss in such surrender: for we have given up the right, the power, the control, the delusion that we may find by revenge a peace which is not in its capacity to give. For when we surrender, we win; when we submit, we are victorious; when we give up, we gain immeasurably more than anything we may have lost.
Read Gerard’s essay–no, more than read, absorb it into the depths of your spirit. And muster up the courage thereby to face down those demons dwelling in the depths of your own heart.
Note: The title of this post is not accidentally misspelled–I was informed that the original title (correctly spelled) was copyrighted by an eye care site by that name, who requested that it be changed.